A few hours after the 2001 attacks on the United States, Chinese President Jiang Zemin drafted a telegram and sent it to President George W. Bush. The sign was one of solidarity, with a show of “deep sympathy” for the American people. A month later, the two leaders would have their first meeting, in which the focus of fighting terror was placed at the center of the table. At the end of the meeting, Bush stated how he had no doubt that China would be “on the US side” during a “difficult period”.
20 years later, the scenario is quite different. The American-led “war on terror” not only consumed the diplomatic efforts and money of the world’s greatest power, but also revealed crimes committed by the US in secret prisons around the world, torture and human rights abuses.
The impact on the reputation of the “land of freedom” was real, even undermining its international credibility as the voice of democracy.
Meanwhile, more than $6.4 trillion would be spent on this American effort, which is now considered one of the country’s biggest strategic mistakes.
Global challenges ended up being put on the back burner for years. But for analysts and even US state officials, such spending came at the expense of its own infrastructure modernization, diverted funds from an eventual reinforcement of its presence in Asia and, above all, from a focus on maintaining its economic superiority.
Meanwhile, Beijing would use 20 years of American wars to expand its power. If in 2001 the Chinese economy represented only 7% of the world GDP, it will reach the end of the year with a share of almost 18%, and surpassing the USA.
It was also during this period that China became the biggest trading partner of more than one hundred countries around the world, advancing on regions that had been “abandoned” by American diplomacy.
The Chinese also took advantage of the US “war on terror” to justify a crackdown on dissidents. All of this worked, at least from the perspective of China.
20 years after rushing to show solidarity with the US, the Chinese government’s official statement to mark 9/11 is ample proof that in diplomacy there is no power vacuum and that foreign policy choices determine the position of a country in the world.
Commenting on the date, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for the world to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. But he made it clear that the message would not be just one of solidarity.
For Beijing, the time had come for the US to draw “a profound lesson” from the 20-year war in Afghanistan and insisted that, in this period, terrorism has not been defeated and has indeed grown.
20 years after the earthquake on the planet, China feels strong enough to lecture its great rival, in a statement that was interpreted in the diplomatic world as a clear sign that Beijing may have been the big winner of the ” war on terror”.