What Are China’s True Intentions in Afghanistan?
The amicable, yet cautious, relationship between the Taliban and the Chinese Communist Party has been unmistakable in the weeks leading up to and following the contentious U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to Reuters, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the political chief of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, at the end of July. In this meeting, the two discussed Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence, in addition to security and stability concerns within the nation. According to Deutsche Welle, after the Taliban took over Kabul, the CCP promised to send around $30 million (200 million yuan) worth of vaccines and other humanitarian aid. This demonstrates the first economic assistance the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has received since the country’s takeover by the Taliban. Not only does this represent an olive branch handed to the newly formed government, but it also displays China’s true intentions in the country;—that the state is invested in the financial future of Afghanistan.
By being the first superpower to recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, China placed itself in a strategic position to avoid conflict. Xi Jinping and his party can have focused diplomatic affairs on self preservation , mineral mining, and an expansion of their ever-growing sphere of influence.
Afghanistan is located in central Asia and borders Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and China. The geographical location of Afghanistan is crucial for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the One Belt One Road policy (OBOR). The New York Times writes that “the initiative…looms on a scope and scale with little precedent in modern history, promising more than $1 trillion in infrastructure and spanning more than 60 countries.” This initiative aims to unite rural and urban China by modernizing the region with transnational train lines and other infrastructure.
On top of domestic change, China is developing infrastructure in neighboring nations; namely Afghanistan. The Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank, writes, “on land, Beijing aims to connect the country’s underdeveloped hinterland to Europe through Central Asia. The second leg of Xi’s plan is to build a 21st century Maritime Silk Road connecting the fast-growing Southeast Asian region to China’s southern provinces through ports and railways.”
Unlike the United States, Britain, or the former Soviet Union, China does not want to reform or “democratize” the Afghan state. The CCP knows and continues to analyze the legacy of nations that failed to invade the graveyard of empires. Countless invasions over the past centuries have been unsuccessful and attempts at “democratization” have only led to bloodshed and trillions of dollars wasted. Rather than repeat the mistakes of the West, Xi and his party want to stabilize the region and spur economic prosperity in Afghanistan. Regional stability would legitimize the Taliban-led government and, as CNBC writes, “[and] give them access to international aid that Afghanistan desperately needs.”
Global aid coupled with a developing and prosperous economy in Afghanistan would increase global recognition and foreign investments that the nation needs to sustain itself. And for China’s side, without the stability and cooperation of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, the OBOR project would be impractical . A healthier Afghan economy would raise the standard of living and lift millions of Afghans out of poverty. Perhaps over time, with such improvements, the appeal of extremist groups would diminish and reduce terrorism in Afghanistan, fostering a safer place to live for the Afghan people.
In addition to stability, China needs the minerals Afghanistan has to satiate the domestic and global demand for computer chips and batteries. According to Al Jazeera, “Afghanistan is sitting on deposits estimated to be worth $1 trillion or more, including what may be the world’s largest lithium reserves.” While Afghanistan has smaller mines, they lack the engineering capacity to capitalize on their abundance of resources. On the other hand, China has the technological prowess to extract, export, and process these minerals. China will utilize its strategic alliance with Pakistan, entitled the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to easily transport raw materials to China using the Maritime Silk Road.
Although strategically planned so far, China is playing with fire. The CCP is over-leveraged across Asia and Africa, and there may be a powder keg waiting to ignite. Economic expansion is finite, and China knows they cannot subjugate OBOR nations to the same censors as mainland China. Once Afghanistan gets what they want, what is stopping them from cutting ties to the CCP? And then the rest of the countries? In addition, China’s disregard for the rights of Uyghur Muslim and the Taliban’s history of human rights abuses will continue to stifle future progress, deepening the rift between China’s political and economic philosophy and the rest of the world.