The April announcement of US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan increased concern in China about border security in the Wakhan Corridor. It shared a 92km (57 miles) border strip with Afghanistan and encouraged the Chinese regime to contact the Taliban leadership for preliminary talks. Beijing fears an unstable Afghanistan may cause a spillover of violence to Xinjiang province and damage its strategic regional investment in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The US defeat has opened a strategic door for China into Afghanistan that could be laden with risks.
Mullah Ghani Baradar and a nine-member Taliban delegation met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin on July 28, which ended in the Taliban giving assurances that Afghan soil will not be used for attacks against Beijing in exchange for Chinese economic help and investment for the rehabilitation of the war-torn country. This meeting was a crucial one for the Taliban, as Mullah Baradar was able to get the backing of a world power that could play a significant role in the reconstruction and development of Afghans. On August 16, in a statement on the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China is “ready” to enhance ties with Afghanistan.
And Beijing made good on its promise
While other countries shunned the Taliban rule announced in early September, China answered its calls for humanitarian aid and pledged $31m worth of assistance. Yi criticized the US for freezing Afghan assets during a virtual conference of G20 foreign ministers on September 23. After a week later, the first batch of Chinese aid reached Kabul airport. Beijing is also keeping an eye to cash in on the unexplored mineral resources in Afghanistan, which are hoped to have a value of $1 to $3 trillion. Apart from rare earth elements, the country also has huge gold, platinum, silver, copper, iron, chromite, lithium, uranium, aluminum, and precious stones.
The Taliban appears to be willing to access these resources and use the revenue to solidify its rule. However, the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan also worries China. If the Taliban regime fails to control the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or other violent groups on Afghan territory, this could destabilize Xinjiang province. Furthermore, an unstable Afghanistan could harbor other extremist elements that could harm or sabotage China’s BRI initiatives in the region. Instability in Afghanistan would also prevent any Chinese mining or other economic projects from kicking off.
Other neighboring and global players are also eyeing Afghan resources and they might use local militant groups or warlords to secure their interests. This could undermine Chinese economic interests in Afghanistan and the region. So Beijing will likely approach relations with the Taliban government with caution and take its time making investments in the country.
The writer is a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Government College University Faisalabad, Pakistan. Writer at the Climax, Balochistan Times and Balochistan Express, Pakistan. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.