Per my previous analysis, it is extremely likely that Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be big winners from President Biden’s reckless and ill-advised retreat from Afghanistan. There I noted that if Afghanistan descends into chaos, one way China could interject itself, post-American withdrawal, could be through the United Nations, or along with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
However, if the Taliban succeeds in gaining power relatively easily, China benefits even more. China first publicly hosted Taliban representatives for negotiations in 2019, and private communications have very likely been ongoing for longer.
In that scenario, I noted in a separate piece Mark Almond, director of the Crisis Research Institute at Oxford University, provides some excellent insights in his piece titled, “Days after we leave Afghanistan, China is moving in to gain a direct route to the riches of the Middle East. And with billions in their war chest, where will their ambitions end?”
In a development that should strike fear through Western capitals, Beijing scents [senses] an unrivalled opportunity to extend its influence in the region and gain strategic territorial and economic advantage that could rewrite the geopolitical map in its favour.
And now, Derek Grossman a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp, appears to concur, writing in Foreign Policy:
Amid all of this regional angst, China is quietly attempting to secure its interests in post-U.S. Afghanistan. Beijing has reportedly been actively engaging with Kabul on construction of the Peshawar-Kabul motorway, which would connect Pakistan to Afghanistan and make Kabul a participant in China’s massive infrastructure and investment plan, the Belt and Road Initiative.
Up until now, Kabul has resisted participation in the initiative to avoid getting on the wrong side of Washington. Beijing is also building a major road through the Wakhan Corridor—a slim strip of mountainous territory connecting China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang to Afghanistan—and onward to Pakistan and Central Asia, complementing its existing road network through the region.
Once completed, these new thoroughfares should enable Beijing to pursue its goals of increased trade with the region and natural resource extraction in Afghanistan. According to a 2014 report, Afghanistan may possess nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of extractable rare-earth metals locked within its mountains.
But in order to access these benefits, Afghanistan must first become stable and secure. With a Taliban takeover looming, China received some good news two weeks ago: Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview that “China is a friendly country and we welcome it for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan … if [the Chinese] have investments, of course we will ensure their safety.”
Moreover, on the sensitive issue of whether the Taliban might support alleged Uyghur militants against China in neighboring Xinjiang, Shaheen noted, “We care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world. But what we are not going to do is interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
These words were clearly intended to please Beijing, which appears to be starting off on exactly the right foot with the Taliban should the group regain control over Afghanistan.
Grossman adds: “Beijing already has strong bilateral and multilateral relations throughout the region (not least via the Shanghai Cooperation Organization), but an improved relationship with Afghanistan will pay even larger dividends.”
“If the Taliban stay true to their word—a big if—then Beijing is set to benefit from Belt and Road projects transiting Afghanistan as well as what China frames as counterterrorism cooperation against Uyghur extremists in Xinjiang.”
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