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Is China using the US exit from Afghanistan to expand its Belt and Road Initiative?

One of the major challenges faced by the Chinese regime is the lack of political stability in the region. Without a prolonged period of peace, its infrastructure projects could be at risk.

The United States and its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies have agreed to leave Afghanistan after almost two decades. Joe Biden has even set the deadline of September 11 to mark the return of US troops from the war-torn country. In return, the US government has asked the Taliban to prevent the resurgence of terror organizations such as Al-Qaeda. The departure of American forces has given rise to fears of civil war and the Taliban taking over the country.

While the future of Afghanistan remains shrouded in obscurity, China has stepped in to fill the vacuum. The Chinese authorities are in talks with officials in Kabul to persuade them to officially join the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to the Daily Beast, the Communist regime in China is planning to build a motorway connecting Kabul and Peshawar. If the project is to materialize, it will mark Afghanistan’s official joining of $62 billion CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor).

China has been trying to include Afghanistan in BRI for the past 5 years but has failed due to US interference. Given that the US forces are heading back home, it has provided a fertile ground for the Chinese government to take the deal to fruition.

While speaking about the matter to the Daily Beast, a source informed, “There has been continuous engagement between the Afghan government and the Chinese for the past few years… (but) that made the US suspicious of president Ashraf Ghani government. Ghani needs an ally with resources, clout, and ability to provide military support to his government.”

According to the source, the investment by the Chinese authorities will help generate jobs in the war-torn nation. He said that many people will welcome such economic activities, given that there are limited modes of employment. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian confirmed that the country was in talks with ‘third parties’ such as Afghanistan.

Why is China interested in Afghanistan?

With expansionist plans in mind, China hopes to use the Belt and Road Initiative to connect Asia with Europe and Africa. Through a network of roads and maritime channels across 60 countries, the Communist-run nation has the agenda to establish its influence over the globe. Afghanistan serves as China’s gateway to Europe, Middle East, and Central Asia. As such, the Chinese authorities are more than eager to offer loans, build targeted infrastructure projects and set foot in the Islamic Republic.

One of the major challenges faced by the Chinese regime is the lack of political stability in the region. Without a prolonged period of peace, its infrastructure projects could be at risk. While speaking to the Daily Beast, South Asian affairs expert Michael Kugelman informed, “China could well bring the Taliban on board with BRI. The insurgents have said they will support development projects if they serve Afghan national interests. The Taliban isn’t the only challenge to overcome. There are many sources of violence, both anti- and pro-state, in Afghanistan. So China will still face an extremely insecure environment, even if it gets Taliban buy-in for its projects.” 

Of late, China has been vocal against the United States about its decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, remarked, “Despite the significant progress made in international counter-terrorism cooperation, the world remains confronted with tangible threats of terrorism. ISIS is very active in Iraq and Syria, and the withdrawal of foreign troops has led to a sharp deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan, with terrorist forces such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement waxing strong and wreaking havoc.”

BRI- A tool of subversion and building influence

Belt and Road Initiative is a programme envisioned by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, wherein it provides infrastructure loans to poor countries and takes control of their local resources. The scheme focuses on building airports, roads, seaports in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. On failing to repay back the loan, China takes permanent control of the host country’s resources.

Time and again, the USA had warned countries like Pakistan of China’s dept-trap diplomacy. Former Vice-President Mike Pence had said that China’s seizure of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port is a strategic development in expanding China’s naval outreach. Sri Lanka had to hand over its strategic port of Hambantota on a 99-year lease to China after it found it difficult to repay loans taken under the former PM Rajapaksa. This also raised concerns for India, as Hambantota can be used by China to eye Southern Parts of our country.

All the military projects undertaken by China and Pakistan are designated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is a  $1 trillion chain of infrastructure development programs stretching across some 70 countries. China is investing $62 billion in developing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The US and other economic watchdogs have also warned countries getting involved with China’s BRI, as being China’s aim of spreading its neo-colonial tentacles. A similar fate was witnessed by Greece after it handed one of their busiest Port Piraeus to China.

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Dibakar Dutta
Fascinated by Indian politics

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