China Power

Eyeing Afghan Resources

The discovery of massive mineral deposits in Afghanistan is likely to interest China.

I mentioned yesterday the (curious) proposition by one commentator that China is geographically ‘blessed’. His reasoning was that China is rich in minerals, including copper and iron. It also, according to a US Geological Survey released this year, had among the world’s biggest reserves of lithium, following countries including Chile, Argentina and Australia.

However, according to the survey, mine production between 2008 and 2009 fell by almost a third. Which is one reason why China will be extremely interested in a new Pentagon analysis suggesting that Afghanistan is home to enormous deposits of minerals—including cobalt, gold and lithium—worth an estimated $1 trillion.

Specifically, according to earth2tech, China’s emerging powerhouses in the electric vehicle market will have a keen interest in seeing China get its hands on some of these reserves. According to earth2tech, the Chinese government has indicated it is strongly committed to the electric vehicle market and has offered subsidies for research and purchases.

The discovery could set China up against the US in a battle for resources in a country that the United States, understandably, feels it has made an enormous blood and sweat investment in.

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As the New York Times reported:

‘American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.’

Of course the first order of business for the US will be stabilizing Afghanistan, a challenge that isn’t getting any easier if the run of bad news last week is anything to go by (the Washington Post noted yesterday that 23 NATO soldiers were killed last week, while dozens of guests were also killed at a wedding in Kandahar).

Hudson Institute fellow Richard Weitz told me he had just heard from Prince Abdul Ali Seraj, who’s president of the National Coalition for Dialogue with Tribes of Afghanistan. Although it doesn’t relate directly to China, Prince Seraj’s remarks on the potential role of the tribes in stabilizing Afghanistan are interesting and worth quoting at length. Weitz gave me permission to reproduce his thoughts:

‘One of the major mistakes made and still being made by the coalition forces, especially the Americans, is that they disregard the importance of Tribes in establishing and maintaining peace in Afghanistan. Throughout Afghanistan's history, it has been the tribes who have protected Afghanistan against invaders…The resistance against the Red Army was initiated and fought by the Tribal members. The National Army is a new phenomena. 

‘If only the Americans and the coalition would seek the assistance of the tribal elders, to rally the tribes against the Taliban and al-Qaeda inside Afghanistan, peace would return quickly.  There’s a unity among tribes and most would fight without getting paid as opposed to the Tribes in Iraq whose leaders were paid handsomely.’

And as Prince Seraj notes, there are a host of countries that have an interest in a stable Afghanistan, and although he did not single China out, its border with the country and interest in its resources ensure it is included in the keeping a watchful eye category.

‘Afghanistan's problem is not local, but international in nature,’ Seraj noted.‘It involves the entire Central Asian region. If Afghanistan falls, so will Pakistan, Uzbekistan—al-Qaeda and the Taliban have already made inroads into the former Soviet Republics and are biding their time.’