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The Impossibility of Learning from Afghanistan

An Afghan child walks near military uniforms as he with elders wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. Wakil Kohsar / AFP

The story of China in the Global South has always carried a frisson in the West. A large part of that feeling has to do with China’s size, the way it simply doesn’t fit into any of the categories the West uses to classify and understand the non-West.

But there is another feeling in there, one akin to the unthinking eagerness with which one seeks out one’s own face in a group portrait. It provided Western powers a rare opportunity to objectively compare their presence in the rest of the world to another, or to simply see it from the outside. Because one of the complications of being the strongest in the world is that one never gets to step outside the reality-warping bubble of one’s own power. Even when you leap your mightiest leap, trying to jump into another way of seeing your own presence in the world, the bubble is already waiting to catch you.

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What is The China-Global South Project?


The China-Global South Project is passionately independent, non-partisan and does not advocate for any country, company or culture.


A carefully curated selection of the day’s most important China-Global South stories. Updated 24 hours a day by human editors. No bots, no algorithms.


Diverse, often unconventional insights from scholars, analysts, journalists and a variety of stakeholders in the China-Global South discourse.


A unique professional network of China-Africa scholars, analysts, journalists and other practioners from around the world.