Chinese state media has goaded the US in the wake of the Taliban's insurgence as China seizes its opportunity to ramp up pressure on Taiwan and its claims of sovereignty.
Renowned Beijing mouthpiece the Global Times delivered a scathing editorial to the US and Taiwan, insisting the former could not be relied on as an ally after Washington's decision to remove its troops from Afghanistan.
The move has resulted in the Taliban's swift recapturing of the nation, which the Global Times says has "dealt a heavy blow to the credibility and reliability of the US".
And it says the rapid decline of the Afghan government in Kabul in recent days is an "omen" for Taiwan's "future fate".
China ups the ante on quest for Taiwan
The newspaper's outspoken editor-in-chief Hu Xijin took to Twitter to say Taiwan authorities "must be trembling" following the fall of Kabul.
It comes as China carried out assault drills near Taiwan on Tuesday, with warships and fighter jets exercising off the southwest and southeast of the island in what China's armed forces said was a response to "external interference" and "provocations".
After the fall of the Kabul regime, the Taiwan authorities must be trembling. Don’t look forward to the US to protect them. Taipei officials need to quietly mail-order a Five-Star Red Flag from the Chinese mainland. It will be useful one day when they surrender to the PLA.😁
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 16, 2021
Taiwan, which Beijing claims as Chinese territory, has complained of repeated People's Liberation Army (PLA) drills in its vicinity in the past two years or so, part of a pressure campaign to force the island to accept China's sovereignty.
In a brief statement, the PLA's Eastern Theatre Command said warships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets had been dispatched close to Taiwan to carry out "joint fire assault and other drills using actual troops".
The statement noted that recently, the United States and Taiwan have "repeatedly colluded in provocation and sent serious wrong signals, severely infringing upon China's sovereignty, and severely undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait".
US warships have routinely sailed though the South China Sea and Taiwan strait in Washington's commitment to "a free and open Indo-Pacific", enraging Beijing in the process.
11 PLA aircraft (Y-8 ASW, Y-8 EW, KJ-500 AEW&C, J-16*6, and H-6K*2) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ in the morning of August 17, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/c2Wfo13DDi pic.twitter.com/oUvi4DUUVj
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) August 17, 2021
China 'more confident US will cave'
And while Beijing has favoured a peaceful transition to take control of Taiwan, a move which is complicated by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's insistence on an independent Taiwan, President Xi Jinping has not ruled out military action to claim the island.
The US has given its unwavering support to Taiwan, however whether it is willing to engage in conflict with China to protect its sovereignty is another matter.
"The US would have to have a much greater determination than it had for Afghanistan, Syria, and Vietnam if it wants to interfere," the Global Times points out.
"Such a war would mean unthinkable costs for the US, in front of which the so-called special importance of Taiwan is nothing but wishful thinking of the DPP authorities and secessionist forces on the island.
"From what happened in Afghanistan, they should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island's defence will collapse in hours and the US military won't come to help."
Hugh White, a defence analyst at The Australian National University, told the ABC the US's withdrawal in Afghanistan has given Beijing confidence to ramp up its push to reunify Taiwan.
"I think the Afghanistan withdrawal must make the Chinese more confident that if they push hard on Taiwan, America will cave," he said.
In April, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said war in the region should not be discounted.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute Executive Director Peter Jennings said if a war was to develop, the US would call on Canberra for support.
"You better believe the United States will be expecting the help of its two key allies in the region – Japan and Australia – to play a role in the defence of Taiwan," he told Sky News.
In response to Mr Dutton's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Australia of sending the "wrong signals" to Taiwan and reiterated it did not tolerate external interference.
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