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Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Warns US-China Tensions Could Rise After Afghanistan Withdrawal

3 min read

Foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat has said he believes that NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan will likely catalyse a significant rise in tensions between the US and China.

Speaking at a panel event on Afghanistan for the think tank Policy Exchange, Tugendhat explained that the two superpowers have divergent interpretations of the West’s retreat from the region.

While Washington considers the withdrawal to be a strategic move, freeing up space for the US to focus on Chinese advances in South East Asia, Beijing – according to Tugendhat – interprets the retreat as an “absence of strategic patience” and a foreign policy failure.

Discussing what he believes to be a consequence of perceived differences in Chinese and US views of the crisis, Tugendhat said: “There’s a possibility that China reads this weakness and decides that this is now the moment at which it can flex its muscles.The US, feeling that otherwise it will look weak, will feel that it now has to respond,” Tugendhat said.

Alternatively, Tugendhat explained, the US may feel a need to demonstrate the last few months in Afghanistan were not a moment of weakness and as such the country will invest efforts into new alliances, which China will view as aggression.

On Tuesday this week US President Joe Biden described the country's retreat as a delivery on his promise to finish America's “longest war”. 

Defending the move in an address to the nation, the President said: "I'm the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today I've honored that commitment."

On the same day Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that "Afghanistan has been able to free itself of foreign military occupation", signalling a view from the Chinese that the US are losers in the crisis. 

During the Policy Exchange talk the FAC chair addressed US congresswoman Ilhan Omer, assertion on Twitter last week that “ending wars is good actually”.

Tugendhat stressed that “this isn’t the end of a war this is a change of nature, a change of style, a change of competence… but it’s not the end”.

The former British army major also described “radical Islam” and China as two of the greatest threats facing liberal democracies following the West leaving Afghanistan.

“We all focus on China and Chinese communism… But there is a second one that we keep ignoring which is just as real a threat and is increasingly growing,” Tugendhat said.

“That’s transnational ideological movements, of which the most potent today is radical Islam. Radical Islam is not a challenge because of the theology – although the theology is barbaric and brutal… It’s a fundamental challenge because it’s trying to undermine the very order in which nation states.”

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