China’s next steps in Afghanistan

Experts around the world are presuming China’s move to “expand” to Afghanistan. However, instead of using military might, China would likely depend on developmental peace.

Written by Vanness Erwid Wu and Bonfilio Dazzle

As the USA is withdrawing from Afghanistan, a void of power is up for grabs. As the region’s superpower, China sweeps in to build its influence.

Experts around the world are presuming its move to “expand” to Afghanistan. However, China will most likely have a different approach from its predecessors. Instead of using military might, it would likely depend on developmental peace.

Why does China care about Afghanistan?

Chinese interest in the region is mainly characterised by two things:

  • Security purposes

China’s western region of Xinjiang borders quite closely with the Wakhan Corridor. The country has substantial incentives to stop the Taliban from nurturing terrorist and extremist military bases that can embolden groups near Xinjiang, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

  • Economic interests

China’s main stake in the surrounding region is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a series of infrastructure projects to connect western China and Pakistani ports (as an extension of the BRI). There is a possibility of expanding such projects to Afghanistan.

In addition, the abundance of natural resources (mainly rare earth minerals), which could amount to $1 trillion, presents Afghanistan as a viable recipient of investment projects from China.

Well, which does it care about more? It can be argued that China cares more about its security purposes and stopping extremism, as the Afghan market is small and its rare earth minerals are limited in number. Even in stable countries, China rarely finishes its BRI projects. During the start of 2021, Chinese investment in the region was a mere $2.4 million, a huge disparity against investment into Pakistan at $110 million in 2020.

What has China done?

  • China has established a semblance of diplomatic ties through meetings with high-profile Taliban members.
  • Two vital projects, the Amu Darya basin oil and the Aynak copper mine, have largely halted due to security issues and the removal of locals from these areas.
  • Among many instances of other countries withdrawing aid and freezing Afghanistan’s assets, China has agreed to give $31 billion’s worth of aid to the Taliban government, specifically in the provision of crucial food supplies and vaccine doses for COVID-19.

To this end, China has been trying to promote peace within the area since a long time ago, acting as a mediator and promoter of Afghanistan peace by leveraging its association and trade relationship with the Taliban to initiate negotiations with the Afghan government and offer its diplomatic tools. In turn, this would serve as a crucial step towards improving the security situation in the region. In return for this aid, China may impose conditions that allow stability to be achieved. This means no training, recruitment and funding towards other extremist groups.

A process of development without any western democratisation means that the Taliban can instill a theocratic nation. China’s non-intervention policy called for normalisation albeit in an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” fashion.

Collaboration with other countries

China might not pursue this alone. Russia and India seem to be unlikely partners, as Russia wants to establish its own control in Central Asia, while India has strongly backed US intervention and is part of the Quad (a security dialogue with three other countries to stop Chinese influence). However, China can find an ally in Pakistan, with whom its interests primarily align.

  • Both of them have counterterrorism incentives. Pakistan equally wants to crush Tehrik-i-Taliban domestically, a group which has publicly announced that they want to sabotage China’s BRI.
  • They are equally adverse towards India. China and India have a disputed border in the Himalayas, while Pakistan has shown outward support towards the Taliban, a group firmly against Indian-backed western intervention.

Domestic response

This new partnership might prove to be unpopular within China.

  • There is increasing awareness for women’s rights in the nation. This trend caused sparks of criticism online towards the Taliban’s stance towards women within Afghanistan.
  • Moreover, the Chinese government has based much of its propaganda against its Muslim minority in Xinjiang; working with the Taliban shows inconsistency with this religious stance.
  • This House believes that it is in the interests of China to normalise ties with the Taliban
  • As the United States, This House welcomes China’s initiative to strengthen their ties with the Taliban
  • This House, as a Chinese infrastructure company, would invest significant amounts of capital in Taliban controlled Afghanistan

Further reading

The information in this article is a compilation of several sources, which are listed below. We recommend you read them for further understanding of the topic.

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