China never needs to fire a shot in anger to bring down the United States in the eyes of the world. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is engaged in an all-out propaganda campaign to denigrate the U.S. military capability and American foreign policy. Liberty Nation described this effort back in March of this year, and nothing has changed in the CCP’s gray-zone warfare tactics aimed to show that Uncle Sam is an unreliable geopolitical partner. Beijing’s encouragement to terrorist organizations emboldens them to be far more aggressive than they might otherwise be. The situation created is ever more dangerous for U.S. forces and civilians still trapped in Afghanistan. The security situation worsened in Kabul on August 26, when at least two terrorist bombings caused the deaths of 13 U.S. military personnel, as well as dozens of civilians – after warnings of terrorist threats emerged two days earlier.
According to Wang Xiangwei, a columnist for the South China Morning Post, Beijing’s message is summed up thusly:
“Of all the jokes trending on Chinese social media mocking America’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, this one stands out: ‘If you ever feel useless … Just remember that the United States took four presidents, thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and 20 years … To replace Taliban with Taliban.’”
If that’s the only message the CCP’s audience is hearing, then that’s what is believed. It should be of no surprise to anyone, except maybe the Biden administration, that terrorists, particularly ISIS and Al-Qaeda, would hang on every word of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) disinformation campaign. As if the U.S. national security leadership was not doing enough to paint itself as inept and bumblers, China has a megaphone blasting that message of incompetence to America’s enemies. The way The Economist put it was:
“China’s propaganda machine is enjoying the fall of Afghanistan, at least for now. Chinese diplomats and state media have missed no chance to contrast the chaotic retreat of America and its allies with their own country’s continued welcome. For China, this is a chance to advance a model of foreign relations based on coldly weighed security and economic interests, rather than on lofty talk of building a better Afghanistan where girls may go to school.”
Particularly susceptible to the buzz of propaganda are developing nations in Asia, Africa, and South America. However, lately, the primary target for the CCP’s information warfare is Taiwan.
A Beijing Opera?
Wang Xiangwei described Beijing’s windfall opportunity this way: “The catastrophic failure of American might against a ragtag opponent relying on Mao Zedong-style tactics has given Beijing a propaganda coup and Chinese field day.” Wang goes on to explain that looking past the scorn-dripping CCP rhetoric are very serious “questions over US influence and its willingness to defend Taiwan.”
Like it or not, that’s the storyline being fed to U.S. allies, would-be friends, and partners. So, the bottom line becomes, “America’s longest war has ended in a catastrophic failure, further polarizing domestic politics, sapping its international standing, dismaying its allies, and emboldening its enemies.”
And yet, “hope springs eternal” as the Biden administration unleashes a tour de force of diplomatic prowess. In what the BBC calls a “diplomatic charm offensive in Southeast Asia,” Vice President Kamala Harris, America’s cackling crusader, goes into the geopolitical ring, condemning China for “coercion and intimidation” in the South China Sea. Falling on somewhat skeptical ears, Harris emphasized that “the U.S. would ‘stand with our allies in the face of threats.'” Perhaps the most unbelievable of Harris’ assertions, according to the U.K. outlet, was “Her speech which touched on a number of other issues, also mentioned the U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan, where she insisted the decision was ‘courageous and right.'”
Unfortunately, for VP Harris, her less-than-persuasive oratory fell short. Again, from the BBC, “Although the South China Sea is a massive regional issue, Ms Harris’ trip has been largely overshadowed by the country’s rushed exit from Afghanistan which is due to happen by 31 August.” Few believe that Harris’ whirlwind tour of Asia, visiting Singapore and Vietnam, attempting to reassure allies and friends of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, will be any more effective than her crackerjack performance addressing the southern border crisis back home.
No Easy Pickings
In an article by Susannah Patton, in Foreign Policy, the author asked a very important question regarding the vice president’s tour: “But of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations why return to two of the countries that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin already visited in July?” Patton goes on to say, “The answer is simple: The Biden administration is playing it safe. This is not just to keep things easy for Harris … The administration is aiming low because of underlying weaknesses in its approach to Asia.”
Regardless of the reason, Harris seems a paltry answer to the CCP propaganda juggernaut, led by Beijing’s media mouthpiece, the Global Times, haranguing Taiwan with this tweet, “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 [Peoples’ Liberation Army].”
In the face of the PRC’s information warfare in Southeast Asia, the Biden national security team will have to up its game. Veep Harris is not the answer. The continuous and imposing presence of the U.S. Navy in the straits of Taiwan and the South China Sea speaks far more loudly to the region than whistle-stop words of Biden’s administration. The power of the U.S. Navy is a meaningful reminder of what America can be when it wants to and must. Regardless, China’s relentless propaganda campaign should be taken seriously, or America will be trivialized in the minds of those it says it will defend.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.