It’s hardly a surprise that the United State is not the only state to recognize the geopolitical importance of Afghanistan. Among the other nations deeply involved in this Central Asian state is China. Ever since 2011, when the Heart of Asia summit was launched, China has been making every effort to establish better ties with all nations engaged in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Beijing would organize meeting with its regional partners, including Iran, Pakistan and Russia, while working closely with the quadripartite coordination group that consists of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China itself, as well as the Taliban.
However, over the last three years China has increasingly grown interested in establishing closer ties with Afghanistan more directly. After the withdrawal of the better part of US occupying forces, Beijing sent a group of officials led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Kabul. In fact, over the past three years, Beijing would provide more assistance to Afghanistan than it has over the previous thirteen years.
Chinese Interests in Afghanistan
The reasoning behind Beijing’s motivation has been pretty clear all along. It seeks both a gradual decrease in the number of NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan in order to reduce Washington’s influence and to create a “buffer of stability” around China’s national borders. At the same time, officials in Beijing are forced to realize that as long as the situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, NATO and US forces will have a pretext for prolonging their military presence in territory directly bordering China.
In addition, it is of extreme importance for Beijing to ensure a secure implementation of its On Belt, One Road (OBOR) economic initiative, to weaken the positions of various terrorist groups operating in the region, including ISIS. Such groups ensure Central Asia remains a potentially explosive political landscape. This allows terrorists to keep Beijing at all times worried about stability both at home and across the region. What’s worse is that the ever present tension in the Central Asia can potentially jeopardize the promising OBOR initiative.
An abrupt increase in ISIS activities in Afghanistan and Central Asia have been a point of China’s increasing concern, since this threat can only be countered with the assistance of regional players along with steadily increasing anti-terrorist efforts by China and Russia. Beijing believes that ISIS militants are capable of infiltrating China’s territory through the Pakistan-China border in a bid to somehow attempt to derail OBOR.
China and the fight against international terrorism
In this regard, in recent years, China has launched the fight against international terrorism, joining its efforts with the countries of Central and South Asia, especially with Afghanistan, while advocating an increase in security spending for regional players to be able to effectively counter the growing terrorist threat. It’s no wonder then that Beijing has been at the helm of pretty much every major anti-terrorist exercise in the region since. Such a policy is being pursued by Beijing largely due to the fact that according to its estimates in the medium to long term, when conflicts across the Middle East end, ISIS will eventually make Afghanistan along with other Central Asian states a go-to area of operations.
For these reasons, ever since 2016, China’s authorities have been strengthening their state borders, while holding anti-terrorist exercises of their own. It’s also curious that according to today’s Chinese legislation, Beijing may consider deploying its troops to the territory of a neighboring state in the event that China’s national security is threatened.
If one is to take into account Russia’s experience in providing assistance to Damascus in its anti-terrorist efforts, while taking into account the desire of the US to increase its influence in Afghanistan and other countries of the region, China’s politicians may be planning an increase in investments provided to the states of the region as their own form of counterbalance.
As for the strengthening of China’s cooperation with Kabul in the ongoing anti-terror struggle, Beijing’s decision to assist the latter in the creation of special units designated for mountain warfare is particularly noteworthy. In particular, as it’s been noted in mid-August by the press secretary of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, China will finance the creation of a special forces unit in Badakhshan, which will ensure security in this mountainous province on the border with Tajikistan. Beijing has not simply pledged to create the necessary infrastructure, but to support the unit with weapons and necessary equipment as well. Prior to that, China’s top brass would announce its intentions to provide Afghanistan with 73 million dollars in military assistance.
Vladimir Platov, expert specialized on the Middle East region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“