Geopolitics

China In Afghanistan, A Hesitant Neighbor Comes Knocking

Along the Silk Road in Afghanistan
Along the Silk Road in Afghanistan
Zhang Hong

BEIJING With President Barack Obama's recent announcement that the United States will remove all military forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2016, American foreign policy is preparing to turn a page full of blood and tears.

But this also may mark the beginning of another era: when China will play a prominent role in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

Raffaelo Pantucci, a senior researcher on counter-terrorism and Chinese diplomacy at Britain's Royal United Services Institute, says that China has serious concerns about the risk that Afghanistan could become a source of instability exported throughout Central and South Asia after the U.S. withdrawal.

The worries have a distinctly economic angle, as instability could affect several key projects, including the New Silk Road Economic Zone and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Another potential risk is whether Afghanistan will become the new stronghold for the Uighur extremist organization from Xinjian, right next door in northwestern China. Pantucci says Uighur separatists don't currently have close ties from global jihad groups, though there is a presence in Pakistan. "I don't think that it's beneficial for them to transfer to Afghanistan, neither do I believe that they'd be welcomed by the Afghan authorities," he cautions.

More generally, analysts are watching to see how China will behave in its new role as a global power. Can it manage a neighboring country that is riddled with problems? Will China hesitate in assuming its great power role and ending up having too many irons in the fire?

Controversial investments

Meanwhile, China has quietly become post-Taliban Afghanistan's most important investment source over the last few years.

In 2008, a consortium made of the China Metallurgical Group and the Jiangxi Copper Company signed an agreement with the Afghan government to develop the Aynak copper mine 35 kilometers from Kabul. This is believed to be Afghanistan's largest single foreign investment ever at $4.2 billion, as China obtained a 30-year lease of the entire site of this the world's second largest copper deposit.

In 2011, the China National Petroleum Corporation obtained three petrol field blocks in the country to become the first foreign oil and gas exploration enterprise after the fall of the Taliban. This has provoked a certain criticism of China in the United States, which has paid a huge price for its war in the country; and China is seen to be acting in Afghanistan as "free riders."

What vexes some U.S. observers is that China did not provide any support for the human, material and financial resources to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF). Even China's investment in the Aynak copper mine has to rely on the local American soldiers providing security patrols.

Meanwhile, in China's view, Afghanistan is an "awful mess" left by the U.S. and NATO, also in light of of the already significant Chinese investment in Afghanistan" post-war reconstruction.

The continued lack of security has limited China's economic "soft power." Since its groundbreaking ceremony in July 2009, the Chinese company's mining has made no real progress. Pantucci notes that Afghans have begun to complain that "the Chinese have come to sit on our copper without doing anything..."

There is also a remarkably small commitment from Beijing to improve the security situation, with Chinese authorities having trained a mere 300 Afghan police officers.

A turning point?

Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, pointed out in a recent report that 2014 will be a crucial year in defining Sino-Afghan relations. Not only has the United States set the date for retreating from Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is to complete its presidential election, China will also begin to show more diplomatic efforts on the Afghan front.

So as not to garner unwanted attention from international terrorist networks, Small believes China will continue to avoid getting involved with security issues, and focus on economics and diplomacy.

Yan Xuetong, the Dean of the Institute of Contemporary International Relations at Tsinghua University, told Caixin that China fears the situation in Afghanistanis will likely worsen. Still, China will take a different approach to the country from that of the United States.

China has also begun to step up a series of trilateral meetings with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with Russia and India. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security mechanism led by China and Russia, accepted Afghanistan in 2012 as an observer country. In August, China will also host in Tianjin city the "Istanbul Process," also called the Heart of Asia, a ministerial conference to discuss this very issue.

Among the various meetings, Pantucci reckons the discussion between China and India is the most meaningful. "The two regional powers have very similar interests in Afghanistan," he said.

What remains to be seen is how Narendra Modi’s new government in India will develop the "rules of the road" with China for investing in Afghanistan.

"I think China’s Afghanistan strategy can be roughly summed up as a kind of hedging against risks in all aspects in the country," concludes Pantucci. "However, China has yet come to a concrete conclusion on just exactly how to do that."

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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