In the days following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, China made public steps to strengthen its relations with the Taliban in an apparent effort to expand its Belt and Road (BRI) initiative.
“They are jubilant. It undoubtedly reinforces Beijing’s narrative of the inevitable decline of the United States, which really began to be an integral part of China’s global strategic communications after the 2008 financial crisis,” Heino Klinck, former deputy. Assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under the Trump administration, told Fox News.
Klinck said that “perceived economic weakness in 2008” has played into China’s strategy to persuade underdeveloped countries that America’s democratic capitalist system is failing.
“The recent debacle we have seen in Afghanistan only reinforces Beijing’s long-held narrative that we are in decline,” Klinck added.
Experts have questioned the authenticity of China’s intention to invest financially in the Taliban-controlled country and suggest that it is more likely an attempt to reinforce the perception of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
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“The immediate goal is to try to persuade people … that Western-style republicanism – which has been supported by the United States – is failing,” senior business researcher Eric Brown told Fox. Asian and Middle Easterners at the Hudson Institute. New. “And that the politics of the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the new international order it wants to create, is superior to what the United States tried to create after 20 years in Afghanistan. “
“I think their immediate goal is a political victory to shape the perception in Asia that the United States is really in the background,” he added.
Just two days after two United States’ official withdrawal from Afghanistan, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement alleging that the Taliban called its Communist neighbor a “trustworthy friend” and agreed to allow continued expansion of the BIS.
“I think Xi wants to embarrass the United States,” Brown said, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who started the BRI program in 2013.
But some have suggested that the prospects for Chinese involvement in Afghanistan do not match, indicating that China may not have a real interest in immediately expanding its multibillion-dollar plan in the Taliban-controlled state. .
“I think what you see is that China wants to come across as a positive partner, but I think you are unlikely to see any really big investments from China in Afghanistan,” he said. Zack Cooper, Principal Investigator at American Enterprise. Institute (AEI) specializing in American strategy in Asia.
The Taliban have championed the partnership recently heralded as their “ticket” to modernizing Afghanistan’s infrastructure.
Earlier this month, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the group – still referred to as a terrorist organization by the United States – “is very concerned about the Belt and Road Project.
“We have rich copper mines, which, thanks to the Chinese, will be modernized,” the spokesperson said in an interview. “Finally, China is our ticket to markets around the world.”
Afghanistan is estimated to have around $ 1 trillion in untapped mineral resources, which Klink argued China could use for the production of “electric cars, cellphones and more. high-tech consumer goods ”.
“It also allows the Chinese, frankly, to diversify and secure their own supply chain,” he added.
But it’s still unclear what China’s real plans are for Afghanistan.
“Pakistan is for me a good example here of what to look at,” said Cooper, who served in the Defense Ministry and as an assistant to the White House National Security Council during the administration. Bush. “What interests China most are the road / rail networks from the Indian Ocean through Pakistan to China. Afghanistan is just not perfectly located for some of these road and rail networks. . “
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Cooper argued that while there are some opportunities for China in Afghanistan, China’s resources have become more limited due to other financial commitments it has made regarding BRI projects.
Afghanistan also lacks the infrastructure required to extract resources on a large scale.
Experts argued that China’s interest in Afghanistan likely lies outside its typical investment in foreign countries.
Klinck said China is likely looking to see if Beijing can “shape a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan into positional policies that favor Chinese interests.”
“What I believe will happen is that the Chinese government will seek first-mover advantage by being one of the first governments … to grant the Taliban-led government diplomatic status and diplomatic recognition,” he said. -he declares. “And frankly, this will be a big boon for the internationally isolated Taliban.”
Klinck also said he believed that in a “counterpart” measure, China would try to secure loans for the Taliban using “its leadership of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank” – a decision which he says will happen before any Chinese business or state-owned enterprises set up shop in Afghanistan.
There are also major security concerns in Afghanistan.
Chinese engineers in Pakistan, a nation ranked at level three according to the State Department’s advisory system, have increasingly fallen victim to terrorist attacks.
In July, nine Chinese nationals were killed in northern Pakistan when a bus carrying workers to a dam construction site was attacked by a suicide bomber. The Pakistani government blamed Pakistani Taliban militants known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Afghanistan is listed as a level four, and the State Department has explicitly advised against travel to the collapsed state.
“I have a feeling that a lot of Chinese experts are actually quite nervous about being in Afghanistan,” Cooper said. “There are real vulnerabilities for China.”
Experts agree that one of China’s biggest motivations for drawing closer to the Taliban is geography.
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Afghanistan shares a border with China’s Xinjiang Province – once the seat of the extremist Islamic Uyghur organization, the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, and a frequent justification by China for massive human rights violations against Uyghurs.
Klinck argued that “China’s measures for ROI, ROI, are not necessarily measured in financial terms.
“In fact, this is probably the least important aspect of any quoted ‘investment’ under the auspices of the BIS,” he added.