On September 3, 2021, Taliban claimed that China has agreed to keep its embassy in Kabul open and increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. As the international community remains shocked about America’s failure in Afghanistan, regional and global focus has moved on to Taliban’s newly empowered plan to rebuild the nation from the rubble of the US military invasion, wherein Taliban leaders commit to reconstruction. In view of all the profound uncertainties and difficulties that the country faces today, China has undoubtedly emerged as its most potential partner to continue its reconstruction efforts. Nevertheless, it remains pertinent to investigate as to why does China need a stable and peaceful Afghanistan?
Abdul Salam Hanafi, a member of the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, “held a phone conversation with Wu Jianghao, Deputy Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China,” according to the spokesman Suhail Shaheen. “The Chinese deputy foreign minister said that they would maintain their embassy in Kabul, adding our relations would beef up as compared to the past. Afghanistan can play an important role in [the] security and development of the region,” he said. “China will also continue and increase its humanitarian assistance especially for [the] treatment of Covid-19,” the spokesman continued.
After the United States announced the departure of its troops from Afghanistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed obstacles to Afghan peace during the Fourth China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in Guiyang, China on June 3, 2021. Even while each regional country favours a peaceful political solution to the Afghan conflict, no one nation is willing to take the lead on a regional mission to restore peace in the country. Because of this, China perceives the United States’ role in Afghanistan has been negative, but the abrupt American departure is likely to create more problems than opportunities for the Chinese government. When Wang addressed at the 3rd session of the 13th National People’s Congress in May 2020, he expressed similar concerns and said that America’s troop withdrawal must proceed reasonably without jeopardising Afghanistan’s or other countries’ interests on the ground.
Despite its history of conflict and horror, Afghanistan not only remains plagued by a great deal of unrest, but is also saddled with many more problems, such as political instability, government corruption, a massive drug production industry, and a continuous Taliban insurgency. Another issue is that approximately half the countryside in Afghanistan continues to be contested or controlled by the Afghan Talibans and other terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), a member of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Although Afghanistan has seen decades of military operations and economic and security assistance from the rest of the world, it remains a source of instability in the region. This, in turn, has led to the development of the idea of a “New Great Game” as the United States-led war in Afghanistan has evolved into a deadly regional geopolitical battle. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will lead to an increase in terrorist organisations. Afghanistan may therefore become a battleground for the future power struggle.
Furthermore, amid the US-China rivalry, America’s Afghanistan exit may have damaging consequences for Central and South Asian countries. According to Marvin Weinbaum, Afghanistan’s issues are really regional in character, therefore they must be addressed by regional policies and cooperation. Despite the United States leaving, however, regional political strategy has yet to materialise.
Although Afghanistan and China share a 76-kilometer-long border, before to the September 11th terrorist attacks, Beijing didn’t have a significant interest in developing relations with Kabul. China did not participate significantly in Afghan politics for a long time after that. Even yet, Beijing began to exert more interest on the Afghan government in 2011, the year the United States announced its military departure from Afghanistan. The Chinese government in Beijing supported the Istanbul Process in October 2014 to help reconcile the Afghan government with the Taliban. Speaking about China’s five suggestions on the resolution of the Afghan conflict, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talked about ‘peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction’ and Afghanistan’s participation in ‘regional cooperation’ in his address.
Since then, China has sought to mediate between the two sides involved in an attempt to help resolve their differences. While welcoming a Taliban delegation, the Chinese government has also participated in many international conferences on the peace process in Afghanistan. A group of Taliban members met with China’s special envoy in December 2014, one month after President Ashraf Ghani’s first visit to China, during which he asked that China play a mediating role and push Pakistan to enable Taliban leaders to meet with Afghan authorities.
China’s hosting of the Taliban’s meeting with the Kabul government in Beijing is an unprecedented example of China helping to mediate another country’s internal dispute, and it represents China’s quest to eventually replace the United States as the region’s main source of security and wealth.5 At the time of the announcement, China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sun Yuxi, declared China’s willingness to take on further responsibilities. Since the United States and NATO have been in Afghanistan for the past 13 years, and have given the Afghans with support, they’re now approaching a critical moment, he said in an interview with the BBC. We are ready to do more, and we want to have a bigger role to play. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, promised to provide vital facilitation at any time if it was required by any of the players in Afghanistan in February 2015. While China was publicly proclaiming a commitment to helping the U.S. in Afghanistan, it was privately planning to make use of American security forces.
Before we can go on, we must first understand China’s motives in Afghanistan. The first priority is to avoid religious extremism in Afghanistan from causing harm. The North Xinjiang area has been particularly vulnerable to separatist impulses, and the heightened problems have been made worse by China’s new struggles with Islamic extremism. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Central Asia became a breeding ground for Islamic extremism, thanks to ethnic and theological divides, as well as the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s. During the first decade of this century, terror incidents sprang up here and there, but the ethnic riots in Xinjiang in July 2009 were, perhaps, the most notable display of the Uyghurs’ broad discontent with their situation at the time. After it became known that Uyghur militants trained and housed in Afghanistan were extending their influence into mainland China, concern grew among Beijing’s security apparatus. China was apprehensive about the prospect of more terrorist bloodshed in Afghanistan and the impact it might have on their country. At the same time as the Obama administration announced plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the event happened.
Moreover, Beijing’s geopolitical connectivity plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is very important, and it is not possible to ensure its security without Afghan involvement. As a Chinese scholar described it, Afghanistan is like a lock that may seal Central, South, and West Asia from one another. Even when seen in a positive perspective, this discovery may be the key that opens the door to collaboration between these two disciplines. Both China and Afghanistan often stated their readiness to cooperate on BRI projects and to include Afghanistan as a major BRI artery in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Despite its many advantages, the CPEC faces several challenges, including Afghanistan’s unstable internal security situation. There are doubts about the BRI’s long-term success because of instability in and around Afghanistan. China’s BRI projects in Afghanistan have thus been recognised by several foreign powers. Resolution 2274 (2016) on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which was approved in March 2016, advocated for the growth of regional commerce and transit via regional development projects, such as BRI. A UN Security Council resolution from March 2017, Resolution 2344 on Afghanistan, calls for international consensus on helping Afghanistan and boosting regional economic cooperation via various connectivity projects, including BRI.
To help safeguard China’s investments in Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, Beijing’s foreign policy priorities include making sure the situation in Kabul is stable. China has just revealed a major deal with Iran that is expected to provide a whopping $400 billion in investment over a 25-year period. China finds the country’s massive oil resources and its pivotal role in regional geopolitics particularly enticing. This Chinese endeavour should also assist in mitigating Iran’s isolation at the beginning of the reopening of negotiations over the 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran has already expressed an interest in the CPEC and in joining in the BRI. The repercussions from a US departure may go far and wide, and China will not be unaffected. China’s involvement in Afghanistan is essential to this situation, and it cannot be emphasised enough. The Chinese government has also increased its cooperation with the Afghan government on the subject of border security.
The ongoing turbulence in Afghanistan threatens to upset Xinjiang’s stability, making it harder to complete the BRI there. Even though the land is barren and poor, Afghanistan’s mineral and other natural resources nevertheless have an allure for the Chinese, who invest in and build there. China’s interest in Afghan natural resources may be evident from the fact that it has participated in Afghan resource development despite having no formal diplomatic ties with Kabul.
A complete three-pronged strategy is therefore essential to Afghanistan’s success. Afghanistan’s internal problems should be solved by the Afghans without the help of foreigners, and the first prong may be related to that. We need to make sure that Afghanistan’s neighbours do not try to benefit from the current conflict, therefore the second prong should be mostly focused on the area, especially when it comes to Afghanistan’s neighbours. The world’s response to Afghanistan’s economic and security requirements may be the third tier of the overall strategy
Note: This article appeared in Asian Telegraph, dated 24 October 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.