Geopolitics

China Is Now The Superpower With Biggest Stake In Afghanistan

China has big business interests in Afghanistan and security concerns on its western border; and following the U.S. pullout and Taliban takeover, Beijing will not tolerate the country becoming a source of regional unrest.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with the political chief of Afghanistan's Taliban, July 2021

Jorge E. Malena

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — For Beijing, the recent U.S. pullout and Taliban takeover makes Afghanistan an urgent matter. A hostile Afghanistan could not only threaten its hold on the "autonomous" western region of Xinjiang, but also the implementation of China's Belt and Road Initiative (or New Silk Road). Chinese interests in Afghanistan relate principally to security, but also the potential impact on the economy.

That is why, hours after the Taliban took over Kabul, Beijing warned the group not to become a refuge for terrorists. In the past five years, China has participated in building transport and energy infrastructures in Afghanistan, within the Belt and Road initiative.
This vast plan includes six land corridors, two of which cross Central Asia: the China-Central Asia-Western Asia corridor, and the China-Pakistan corridor. Once complete, they will allow China to boost trade with Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as expand the development of natural resources business in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan could distract China from other regions.

Afghanistan has around $1 trillion's worth of extractable rare metals in its mountains. It also has the largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, cobalt, lithium, mercury and gold, also valued at over $1 trillion.

China is the country's largest foreign investor, and needs a stable and safe Afghanistan to make a profit here. Another concern for China, from a longer-term perspective, is that the U.S. withdrawal will benefit Washington by assuring two of its objectives. One is to distract China from other regions (especially the Asia-Pacific zone) and the other, give the United States greater time and resources to contain China.

Before the Taliban took back power, the group's spokesman declared China to be a "friendly country" that was "welcome" to help rebuild and develop Afghanistan. Referring to fears of Muslim separatism in the Xinjiang, he said the Taliban were concerned by "the oppression of Muslims, but we will not intervene in China's internal affairs."

A recent UN Security Council report noted that three militant groups — the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM, which China considers a direct threat to its security) — are present in Afghanistan. ETIM has hundreds of active members in the Afghan province of Badakhshan that borders Xinjiang; and the organization, according to the Security Council report, wants to create an independent state in Xinjiang. To that end, it facilitates the movement of fighters into China.

The Taliban could stop ETIM from operating in Xinjiang or striking at Chinese projects in Central Asia. But one cannot be certain of this, as the Taliban regime has yet to prove it will govern with moderation. Indeed, it is difficult to know whether or not the Taliban effectively control Islamist groups in Afghanistan, or are prepared to lose legitimacy as a fundamentalist group by agreeing to curb ETIM.

It is simply far too early to know how the Taliban will rule. Their early promises seem aimed at winning international recognition and assuring themselves a fairly stable transition of power. If they honor agreements made before taking power, Beijing will benefit from New Silk Road projects crossing Afghanistan and curbs on separatism in Xinjiang. The United States' withdrawal would also present it with an opportunity: to promote an alternative world order, following reduced Western military presence in Asia.

But if a radical Taliban regime fuels instability in Afghanistan and Islamic militancy in parts of Central Asia where China has interests, or inside Xinjiang, it will be testing China's stated policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states.

*Malena heads the Department of China Studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

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

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


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#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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