China Eyes Afghan Goldmine
Image Credit: Wikicommons

China Eyes Afghan Goldmine

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Not everyone is leaving Afghanistan.

Zhou Yongkang, China’s security supremo, became the first member of the country’s top leadership to visit Kabul since the 1960s recently, jetting in for several hours for talks with President Hamid Karzai.

Perhaps Zhou, China’s crackdown connoisseur, had some advice for Karzai about how to properly squash one’s opponents (on Afghanistan’s reconciliation process, he may have had less to contribute). In any case, his trip underlined that from Beijing’s perspective Afghanistan represents both a risk and an opportunity. And whichever side of the coin you choose to emphasize, the situation demands the same policy choice: greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan.

Though China is hardly interested in cleaning up NATO’s mess, it can ill afford to do nothing as Afghanistan stumbles into its post-American future. A failed state on China’s borders would be serious enough; one controlled by Islamist extremists who might offer support to insurgents in Xinjiang would be even worse.

Nor is Afghanistan a place that a resource-hungry nation like China would want to ignore, even if it could. The $1 trillion value placed on Afghanistan’s natural resources makes the country a prize as yet unclaimed, for the most part, by multinational oil and mining corporations. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) took a first slice of the pie late last year, with the China Mellurgical Construction Co. having already committed $3.5bn to Afghanistan’s Aynak copper mine – the biggest investment anyone has yet dared to make in an Afghan business venture. Nonetheless, these are probably just first steps for China Inc.

Zhou was reported to have signed “security and economic cooperation agreements” with Karzai: really, that means, “we’ll keep you secure, if you cooperate economically”. Karzai may well need China’s help if he is to remain in power, and keep the Taliban away from the gates of Kabul. Initially, that means money; later it could mean more direct security involvement on China’s part. However Karzai views China’s future role in Afghanistan, he is undoubtedly a man who fears for his own future. That will surely give China plenty of leverage when the haggling starts (which, in light of Zhou’s trip, it probably has).

The big question is whether China can squeeze Afghanistan into its template for dealing with less-developed, and potentially awkward neighbors. The opportunities are as great, if not greater, than in Cambodia, or Laos, or Burma; but the barriers to success are more daunting – this is one country where a pliant government will not be enough to ensure that China’s economic dealings are profitable.

Afghanistan arguably represents the greatest test of Chinese soft power to date. With none of the wartime baggage that so many other countries are carrying with them as they head for Afghanistan’s exits, the Chinese can enter with the promise of rapid development such that only China can deliver. That’s a message that plenty of Afghans will want to hear, and one that may be powerful enough to drown out even the Taliban’s threatening counterblasts.

Afghanistan will therefore prove a tempting challenge for an increasingly confident China. Beijing will certainly be happy to succeed where both the Soviet Union and the United States have both failed. 

Trefor Moss is an independent journalist based in Hong Kong and Flashpoints blogger. He covers Asian politics, defence and security, and was Asia-Pacific Editor at Jane’s Defence Weekly until 2009. He can be followed on Twitter @Trefor.

Comments
6
MaxFarasat
October 17, 2012 at 07:27

Lets see how China approaches the Afghan crisis. Will it be able deal with the business part only? Surely security is the utmost neccesity if anyone wants a secure business environment. After the US exists from Afghanistan, surely the afghans will face much problem  securing their country alone. The chinese responce then, would be most intreresting subject. The world will surely have a close watch on that.

John Chan
October 3, 2012 at 00:58

@Errol,
Are you blackmailing? Your comment further proves the Westpac and US imperialism and their mafia rogue behaviour are truth not prattle.
 
Nobody is bad mouthing and smearing the Westpac; Chinese bloggers’ comments are the constructive criticism of the Westpac’s shortcomings and pitfalls. Though the narrow minded and selfish Westpac views everything negatively and destructively, but it does not mean others have to behave like them, after all the Westpac is an adolescence in historical term, they need time to learn how the mature cultures behave.

Errol
October 1, 2012 at 20:28

"China’s dollar is hard-earned money, Chinese will not invest in an environment that is unstable and hostile that will make those hard-earned money becoming smoke in the air."
 
This statement strikes me as humorous. The way you prattle about WESTPAC, US Imperialism, and basically all the negative things you had called Washington DC, you are aware that China has money in the American financial system, right? There's a disconnect with your quoted statment above and how you regard the West.

John Chan
October 1, 2012 at 13:18

@JohnX,
The West’s predatory imperialism has been proven disastrous, so please stop view the world thru that faulty lens any more.
 
Afghanistan’s quarrel is Afghanistan’s internal affairs; it is none of any foreigner’s business. The West’s busy body not only adds more atrocity into Afghanistan, they probably are the source causing such atrocity.
 
China’s dollar is hard-earned money, Chinese will not invest in an environment that is unstable and hostile that will make those hard-earned money becoming smoke in the air. If China can make money as you said, it means China has facilitated an environment that all warring parties are willing to co-exist together peacefully, which the West has failed to achieve. It proves “only the West can invent and only the West can succeed” is nothing but a fallacy.
 

Anon
September 30, 2012 at 13:13

If China is able to keep the place stable and not a haven for terrorists, be my guest. Doing so would be conducive to such operations anyways.

JohnX
September 28, 2012 at 21:11

Trefor wrote:"Afghanistan arguably represents the greatest test of Chinese soft power to date. With none of the wartime baggage that so many other countries are carrying with them as they head for Afghanistan’s exits, the Chinese can enter with the promise of rapid development such that only China can deliver. That’s a message that plenty of Afghans will want to hear, and one that may be powerful enough to drown out even the Taliban’s threatening counterblasts."
 
You assume that they are going in there to only work with Karzai. They may be going in there to work with the Taliban as well. If they can work with both Sudan and South Sudan, then why wouldn't a broken up Afghanistan with support for both sides be a workable situation for them.
 
China has proven that it doesn't care how much blood is spilt so long as it benefits, so if the Taliban take control of Pastun areas and the rest of Afghamistan goes its own way, then China will likely support all sides so long as it gets its money. They wouldn't care about the beheadings, murder of females so long as thier interests aren't harmed.
 
The real question would be whether China can build up its economic position in a neighboring country without using its own citizens to do so as this may cause troubles. If the Afghan people have such a problem with 100,000 soldiers in thier country then how would they accept a million Chinese workers?
 
Yet, even in Algeria when they built a road, they had 100,000 Chinese workers. Some think that is why there were some disputes there, as the locals had no jobs and Chinese workers were imported to do work that they could do.
 
Though, either way its interesting times that we live in.

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