• Eyal Pinko

China has Many Reasons to Expand its Involvement in Afghanistan

Pragmatism, mutual interest may encourage Beijing to quickly open diplomatic relations with Taliban government. Since the Taliban’s storming of Kabul on August 15, several governments have indicated they are preparing to open friendly relations with Afghanistan's new (old) rulers. The list includes Iran, Pakistan, and most notably, China. According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Beijing “stands ready to develop good-neighborly, friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan,” once a new Taliban-led government is formed in Kabul.


China has several reasons to deepen its involvement in Afghanistan.

Infrastructure

In September 2013, Xi Jinping, then the new head of the Chinese Communist Party, presented his strategic plan - the "New Silk Road" – also known as the Belt and Road Initiative. The ambitious program, funded by hundreds of billions of dollars, has set itself the goal of positioning China as a political and economic powerhouse, controlling the global economy and the international agenda. The Belt and Road Initiative is changing the global political and economic fabric through a combination of political, cultural, and economic strategies. The initiative is based on the acquisition and takeover of assets, infrastructure, technologies, and natural resources in countries across the globe, along with the development of knowledge industry, technology, and manufacturing in China.

Economic Dependency

Among the most significant accelerators for China are energy sources, minerals, and other natural resources. The "New Silk Road" business model is, in fact, based on a colonial mindset. The Chinese are looking for politically and economically weak countries, often in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans. To these countries, the Chinese promise almost endless economic assistance and the fulfillment of the government's wishes - including funds that flow into the pockets of government and other high-ranking officials. In return for economic assistance, China receives control of state assets, natural resources, and transportation and energy infrastructure. This control aims to solidify a Chinese economic and political monopoly. And back to Afghanistan.

Minerals

China recognized Afghanistan as a strategic goal many years ago, given its huge natural resources, especially in minerals. In 2006, the United States discovered mineral reservoirs in Afghanistan valued at over $1 trillion. These reserves include huge arteries of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and vital industrial metals such as lithium. The deposits are enormous in size and contain many types of minerals essential to modern industry. An internal Pentagon memorandum from 2010 states that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of metals and lithium." Lithium is a major raw material in the production of batteries and other energy sources. According to the US and China, if Afghanistan develops its mining industry, it could become one of the most important mining centers in the world. The transformation of Afghanistan into a Chinese colony and the takeover of these natural resources will ensure China's access to essential (and cheap) minerals for its developing industry, allowing Beijing to sell the resources worldwide facilitating even greater wealth.

Disruption

Beyond this economic-strategic reason, China sees the crisis in Afghanistan as an opportunity to exploit the situation to discredit the United States, the democratic form of government, and to send a sharp and clear message to the world that the US cannot be trusted as an ally. In addition, China is anticipating, together with the world, the influx of refugees expected to flee Afghanistan seeking refuge in Europe. It is not yet immediately clear how severe this flow of human beings will be. However, it is enough to read the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimation that about half of Afghanistan's population, 18 million people (including about 10 million children), are in a situation that requires humanitarian support. Furthermore, illegal immigration of refugees from Afghanistan to Europe may have a significant impact on the European economy, upsetting the political balance in the European Union (EU). China has a clear interest in destabilizing the EU. China has been working for years to undermine the world’s largest trading bloc, through political and economic pressures, injecting funds into countries (notably in the Balkans), and undermining political stability in other ways (such as influencing election campaigns). The influx of Afghan refugees into the EU may well serve Chinese purposes. The last reason for China's involvement in Afghanistan is China's desire to maintain calm and control the land border between the two countries - Afghanistan shares a tiny sliver of its far eastern border with China, and from Beijing’s perspective, supporting the Taliban will encourage calm. China has identified a number of strategic reasons as to why it could benefit from involvement in Afghanistan. Therefore, in the coming months, it is likely that China will increasingly be seen transferring financial, humanitarian, and military aid to the Taliban to cement its position in the country following the US withdrawal.


The article is originally published by i24 News.

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