China’s Place in the Current Host of Issues around Afghanistan

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The accelerated military (this must be underscored) US withdrawal from Afghanistan, after a 20-year stay in this country that was extremely expensive, remains one of the main events in modern global politics. Which is quite understandable, because this entails a sharply increased level of uncertainty surrounding the situation at one of the world’s “crossroads”, where the interests held by the main participants in the “Great World Game” have clashed for many centuries.

In its current stage, one of those is modern-day China, and the rapid growth of its level of involvement, and whose role in the multilateral transition process taking place on the territory of Afghanistan can be observed, as the saying goes, in real time. Beijing is increasingly coordinating the actions it takes with Moscow. And this is true not only on the territory of Afghanistan, but also in the world political arena as a whole. One of the acts to “synchronize the watches” was the telephone conversation on August 12 between foreign ministers Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov.

Publicly, the main provisions governing the PRC’s approaches to the current situation in Afghanistan were outlined on August 16 during a regularly scheduled press conference held by the official representative of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying. Let us single out a few of those that seem to be fundamentally crucial points. First, the fact that “serious changes” have taken place in Afghanistan in recent years was put on record. Second, respect was expressed for the “will and choice of the Afghan people.” Third, the desire to “stop the war and achieve peace” was pointed out, which corresponds to the “expectations of the world community”. Fourth, it was stated that China took into account a number of positive statements regarding the normalization of the country’s situation made by the leadership of the (banned in Russia) Taliban immediately after it occupied Kabul.

In response to a more specific question about the relations that are emerging between the PRC and the Taliban leadership, a representative from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the very fact of their existence, and said that contacts with the Taliban are aimed at “resolving the Afghanistan problem”. At the same time, the talks between Wang Yi and the delegation of a movement headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, which were held on July 28 in Tianjin, were also mentioned.

There are signs that Beijing will cooperate in Afghanistan with Washington as well, which is undoubtedly still one of the world’s major players. And this is true despite its tarnished reputation (as illustrated in Afghanistan), and in spite of the propaganda rubbish about the approaching “second-ratedness of America” and even about its (“imminent”) collapse.

The graphic assessment by China’s Global Times of the state in which the current American administration finds itself due to the Afghanistan problem is right on the money. This is presented in the form of a hot potato inherited by President Joe Biden from several of his predecessors. Each of them is worthy of setting one of those in motion. But there are not enough “spuds” to go around.

Nonetheless, there are signs that the withdrawal of American troops does not at all mean that there will be a complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Although the author continues to uphold the opinion that the latter would be more appropriate for the “benefit” of the (Afghanistan) business. It is quite possible, however, that this is an erroneous opinion – and that Washington’s new strategy (which is probably only just starting to take shape) will contribute to that very “benefit”.

Along with that, Washington’s attempts to change the format of its presence in Afghanistan are becoming more noticeable. Now the main component in that will not be weapons, but money, which in quite a few (not uncommon) cases turns out to be a no less effective means of attaining certain goals. It can be used in a variety of ways, and so far there has been mention of the decision made by President Joe Biden to freeze Afghan cash reserves that are stored in US banks.

A rather scant message from the State Department has come into the spotlight about a telephone conversation between A. Blinken and Wang Yi held on August 16 on the topic of “the development of the situation in Afghanistan”. More detailed comments could be found in China, which points out the evident interest the United States has in establishing some kind of cooperation with Beijing, whose importance – it is worth reiterating – in the Afghanistan problem is sharply rising.

Specifically, they highlight the gratitude that A. Blinken expressed to his colleague for having the PRC participate in the negotiation process in the capital of Qatar, Doha, in the format of the so-called “expanded troika”. The “troika” itself that was mentioned includes the USA, China, and the Russian Federation, but on August 10 (when its first meeting was held) it was “expanded” by including Pakistan, representatives from the (then still functioning) Kabul government regime, the Taliban, and the EU. However, now that all the former members of Kabul “officialdom” have fled, only the Taliban will now “expand” the “troika” on behalf of Afghanistan.

Even so, it cannot be ruled out (and this was transparently hinted at during the aforementioned press conference by a representative from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that other parties, movements, and ethnic groups (besides the Pashtuns) will also be represented in the future government of Afghanistan.

In the Chinese comments about the cooperation taking shape between the PRC and the United States in Afghanistan, two points jump out. First, the possibility cannot be excluded that both countries do have a common desire for some kind of settlement for the problem in Afghanistan. At the same time, the relative localness of this problem itself, and the aggravation of the situation across almost all other extremely important elements inherent in the relations between the two leading world powers, were also pointed out. In this regard, the question is raised about the very possibility of any effective local-level interaction between the world’s main adversaries.

Recent events in Afghanistan immediately provoked bad associations in Taiwan, which is still one of the main factors that irritates US-China relations. Beijing has overtly hinted at some kind of similar prospects for US behavior towards the Taiwanese regime, which (like the one in Kabul) Washington has been supporting in every possible way for decades. Taipei, of course, does not agree with this analogy, at the same time affirming the need to strengthen both its own defense and its level of cooperation with the USA.

However, even on the territory of Afghanistan itself, intense American-Chinese competition is quite possible, when (and if) the problem associated with that transitions into the economic recovery phase, along with subsequent development across the country. In particular, this refers to the long-discussed project for developing mineral deposits rich in rare earth elements, which are extremely important in today’s cutting-edge industries. The potential value of the total reserves of those in Afghanistan is estimated to range from 1-3 trillion USD.

And finally, it is worth going back to the fact that cooperation between the PRC and the Russian Federation is becoming stronger.  It is important to emphasize that it is by no means limited to the problems in Afghanistan, but is acquiring a global, far-reaching nature, and is becoming one of the most important factors on the modern stage of the “Great World Game”. It is worth noting in this regard the bilateral military exercises just held in the northeast of the PRC (and which were attended by the defense ministers from both countries), as well as the upcoming multilateral exercises in the XUAR.

It is worth noting the extremely remarkable fact that Egypt is participating in the latter. This means one of the most influential Muslim countries, and one where they should apparently know the true price (and background) of the hysterics surrounding the topic of the “Uyghur genocide”, fanned by those who have long had nothing to do with any religions at all.

It is also worth noting that construction was completed on the first railway bridge across the Amur River in the Jewish Autonomous Region, which has a total length (including the access roads) of over seven kilometers. This undoubtedly falls under the category of very important events – both in bilateral relations and world politics. Since we are talking about making the transition to a practical level for long-standing conversations about combining the development of transportation and industrial infrastructure in Russia’s Siberia and Far East regions with the global Chinese Belt and Road Initiative project.

In Afghanistan, the initial positions taken by both countries seem to coincide. In particular, this concerns the matter of maintaining constructive relations with the leadership that the Afghan people themselves consider most suitable for them. If the Taliban (still banned in the Russian Federation) turn out to be just that, then we will need to work with them.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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