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Why China supposedly taking over Bagram Air Base is fake news

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TRIBUNE.COM

Why China supposedly taking over Bagram Air Base is fake news

07 OCTOBER 2021

A Taliban soldier sits in a military helicopter at Bagram Air Base.

There’s no reason at this point why Chinese troops should be put in harm’s way to fight the ETIM and other terrorists

Rumours spread over the weekend that China had secretly taken control of Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base. Both the Taliban and Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu denied these reports, with the former claiming that they’d simply turned on the lights there while the latter declared that “Those who fabricated the rumors that Chinese forces being present at Bagram Air Base has their own ulterior purpose.” Online news site The Drive obtained satellite images contradicting those rumors and thus confirming the Taliban and China’s claims that the People’s Republic hadn’t obtained any secret control of Afghanistan’s largest base. Objective observers are thus left wondering who was responsible for these false claims, why, and the reason behind their timing.

Nothing can be known for sure given the nature of these rumours, but some educated conjectures can still be made. The narrative that China is seeking to militarily expand beyond its borders is a popular one that appeals to some of the country’s supporters and all of its opponents. The first-mentioned are well-intended folks who don’t properly understand Chinese foreign policy and thus wishfully imagine that the country will deploy troops abroad both as a sign of prestige and to help its partners counter shared terrorist threats. The second, meanwhile, present these claims in an ominous way as supposed proof of so-called “Chinese imperialism”. It’s the first category, though, which could inflict the greatest damage to China’s international reputation.

Those across the world who have yet to make up their minds about whether they sympathize more with China or the US in the on-going New Cold War are more likely to believe that an unconfirmed report is true if either of their supporters interpret it as so. In the examined context, those Non-Chinese Pro-Chinese (NCPC) who gave credibility on social media to the claims that China secretly took control of the Bagram base just because it conformed to their wishful thinking but ultimately misguided expectations about Beijing’s policy can inadvertently play into their opponent’s narrative hands. American supporters can influence on-the-fence folks by pointing to the NCPC’s sharing of those false reports to push their claims about “Chinese imperialism”.

People who don’t fully understand Chinese foreign policy but might have wrongly believed that such false reports have some credibility because they saw certain NCPCs sharing them on social media would then have a warped understanding of the country’s policies whether they ultimately sympathize with it or oppose it. It’s always important to refer to official Chinese policy declarations and documents when discussing reports about its military activity abroad because of how much disinformation there presently is about this topic. China’s only overseas military base is in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti for assisting anti-piracy operations in the region and it only dispatches troops to other countries as part of UN peacekeeping forces.

It’s difficult to change someone’s mind if they have already negative views about China, but those who have positive views of the country based on false pretexts such as them sympathizing with it partially due to their belief in false reports about its foreign military activity could more easily change their views. That’s because they’re influenced by fake news that will inevitably be debunked by the facts, after which the person who was misled into believing them might then get upset with China for not doing what they sincerely thought it had. This perception manipulation model is applicable in many other instances since it relies on feeding supporters fake news and then exploiting their inevitable disappointment to turn them against the targeted country.

That’s not to say that some sort of Chinese entity might never have a presence at Bagram, such as a commercial one in a managerial capacity, but just that there really isn’t any solid reason why the Chinese military would want to take over that base and dispatch troops there right now. While there are veritably ETIM – and other terrorist-connected threats that might emanate from Afghanistan to endanger the People’s Republic, the country’s de facto Taliban leaders have years of experience fighting them and thus know better than any foreign forces how to deal with these threats. With all respect to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it probably wouldn’t be able to accomplish much if it deployed to Afghanistan, which might even be counterproductive too.

To explain, there’s no reason at this point why Chinese troops should be put in harm’s way to fight the ETIM and other terrorists like ISIS-K in Afghanistan when the country’s de facto Taliban leaders have the responsibility and motivation to do this instead. China is also very conscious of doing anything that could be manipulated to lend false credence to the information dimension of the US’ Hybrid War on their country such as fuelling the fake news narrative that they’re obsessed with military expansionism for supposedly imperialistic reasons. Deploying troops to the same country that already has a globally renowned reputation for expelling the British, Soviets, and now the Americans would be contrary to their soft power interests.

With this insight in mind, it becomes clearer that those who were responsible for the recent rumours about China secretly taking over Bagram intended for this to serve as an information warfare provocation against the People’s Republic. It simultaneously misled some well-intended supporters of that country while also presenting the opportunity for their opponents to recycle the false narrative about supposedly imperialistically driven Chinese military expansionism across the world in countless international media outlets. The timing coincides with the US’ unprecedented loss of prestige after August’s humiliating withdrawal from the country and could thus play into the hands of its anti-Chinese hawks to push more aggressive policies against China.

It’s for these reasons why it’s highly likely that the US or one of its closest allies was behind these fake news reports. They don’t serve anyone else’s interests but those actors’. It doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things that they were denied by the Taliban and China as well as debunked by independent satellite images since this story can now be referenced following similar forthcoming information warfare provocations to mislead more people into thinking that there’s credibility to such reports simply because they’ve been spread before. The intent is to intensify the information dimension of the US’ Hybrid War on China in order to mislead more on-the-fence folks across the world into siding against that country and supporting its “containment”.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

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