Why is China So Interested in Afghanistan?

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Why is China so interested in Afghanistan? Not content with buying up land and businesses in the United States and Europe, now they’re apparently ready to “help” Afghanistan.

With the United States technically no longer active within Afghanistan, have the Chinese stepped in? And, just how deep into the country are they? Let’s take a look.

For starters, it helps to know some basic geography

China and Afghanistan share a border through incredibly mountainous and rugged terrain for 47 miles along China’s Xinjian province. Consequently, due to the border sharing, China has a direct land connection with the nation.

In 2018 the Pentagon confirmed Chinese “security forces” operating in eastern Afghanistan as the People’s Liberation Army conducted joint training exercises with the then-Afghani government. This intel came after photographs, eyewitnesses, and multiple diplomats confirmed the reports. [source] 

“We know that they are there, that they are present,” a Pentagon spokesman revealed to Military Times, without going into specifics. [source]

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Fast forward to 2021 

July 2021

Beijing stated they would invest $62 billion into Afghanistan to aid the development of China’s $3 trillion Belt and Road initiative. (BRI) [source] This Chinese initiative is a massive project to develop its road and port infrastructure throughout Asia and Europe. However, as multiple European diplomats and the American think tank C4ADS point out, China designed BRI to tip the “balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies.” And it will significantly improve the scope of Chinese power on a global level. [source]

August 2021

Halfway through August, Beijing stated they were looking forward to deepening “friendly and cooperative” relationships with Afghanistan. [source] By month’s end, US troops virtually abandoned the country, leaving behind millions of dollars in state-of-the-art military weapons and technology.

Immediately there was speculation from those in the West that this would lead to American weapons in Chinese hands. [source] South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, said in an interview with Fox News, “We need to watch China because I think you are going to see China make a move for Bagram Air Force Base.” [source]

September 2021

Further fueling speculation was the fact that Western embassies evacuated Afghanistan in droves. Yet, the Chinese embassy conspicuously remained. The only visible change was Taliban security forces surrounding the Chinese embassy instead of the original Afghani government security. [source] Around the same time, Taliban spokesman Mujahid stated China would be their primary partner in rebuilding Afghanistan. [source]

On September 7, we heard reports that Chinese military personnel are conducting feasibility studies on taking over Bagram Airfield, once the largest US military base within Afghanistan. Reports trickled in that China was discussing four other former US airbases as well. China vehemently denied such accusations, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin saying, “I can tell you this is purely fake news.” [source]

Reports still indicated that Chinese personnel had met with the Taliban to discuss the matter. Many were skeptical of Beijing’s denial. Yun Sun, director at the Stimson Center think tank, said, “Given their past experience, the Chinese must be eager to get their hands on whatever the US has left at the base.” [source] 

On September 9, CNN reported that China had announced it would give the Taliban approximately $31 million worth of food, winter equipment, medical supplies, and COVID shots. [source] It was within this same month that the Taliban invited China, Russian, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and Qatar to a celebration to commemorate the beginnings of their newly held reign.

October 2021 

One month later, reports from several sources claimed multiple Chinese military planes flew into Bagram Air Force Base. [source] October 2, the base was lit up at night as planes came in for the first time since the US withdrawal. (Something previously thought impossible for the Taliban to accomplish “due to their lack of expertise or equipment for it.” [source]

When questioned about the matter, the Taliban expressly denied any Chinese troop presence within the area. [source]

Donald Trump would say, however, that “tremendous numbers” of American weapons are currently being sold on the black market, and the weapons left behind were going to benefit both Russia and China. [source]

Apparently, China is not only interested in Afghanistan. According to reports on October 28 from Reuters and others, China is providing $8.5 million to finance the building of a base for police in Tajikistan near the Afghan border. A parliamentary spokesman told AFP that Tajikistan’s lower house approved the plan to build the base and, “All construction is funded by the Chinese side. After construction, the base will be transferred to the Tajik (police)…” [source]

However, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters he is unaware of the plan to build a base. 

So, why is China interested in Afghanistan?

What is it about this constant warzone that appeals? Is it US military technology or perhaps the world-renowned lithium deposits – essential for rechargeable batteries? [source] Maybe it’s the mean by which this would help the Belt and Road Initiative? Is it something else entirely or a conglomeration of all these elements? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Regardless, I don’t believe there’s any doubt – China seems to have developed quite the stake in the future of Afghanistan.

About the Author

Jeff Thompson is an avid fisherman who likes to spend time sailing on his boat and reading while at sea.

Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson is an avid fisherman who likes to spend time sailing on his boat and reading while at sea.

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  • Afghanistan has the world’s largest lithium deposits, which thanks to all the electric vehicle mandates coming our way, the U.S. economy will be utterly dependent on to manufacture car batteries. The Chinese already have us by the short hairs; this will just make it worse.

  • Never underestimate the ability of FJB to screw something up, this would be the consequences of screwing up Afghanistan. We essentially gave China our latest military technology (Was that the plan, it seemed to be with the Clintons) and surrendered precious minerals that these leftist clowns think is the future of energy to a global competitor. There is only one explanation…it is being done on purpose, nobody could be that stupid.

  • Natural Resources, dope, military test, military sales. It ain’t hard to figure out. They’ll fill in the gaps left by wars with everyone in a different approach and stay out of local politics and religion for a time.
    It ain’t that hard to figure.
    How’s it change us? It doesn’t that much.

  • Lithium is only one resource that China is looking at. Afghanistan is also sitting on the biggest source of rare earth elements. Since China already dominates in chip mfg, that would seal the deal for their supremacy is this are.

  • They long wanted the vast minerals available there and now they have them. The Taliban granted them exclusive mineral rights.

  • I´ll talk from the position of an outsider who has grown under the economical, military and cultural influence of U.S.A., which I guess is the case of great parts of the western and even the eastern countries as well. Hope I don´t get misunderstood here because this is a delicate issue but it´s something I reflect quite often myself.

    No nation or people are perfect. But while the essential values and principles of America as a republic and superpower don´t justify and much less excuse all the mistakes and atrocities commited by U.S. in the past against various other countries and populations, including their own (and I´d assume most Americans would condemn those things as well), I concede freedom, individual liberty and (actual) free market capitalism are much more positive than negative on the final balance. Much more.

    So, I´d much rather live in a world under those values and pursuing the same aspirations, while of course wishing for the continuing of the perfecting process instead of it´s destruction for it´s faults, past or present. Oftentimes we only know what we lost when it´s replaced by something much worse.

    I say that in contrast to a world in which the model and power would be China, a communist dictatorship. I understand though they´re pursuing their own aspirations and interests as well, in their own way. In that view, I see the BRI as legitimate. U.S. has sided with evil partners in the past many times too, to pursue, defende or expand their interests – just as China is doing with the Taleban. Heck, these freaks were born from U.S. partnership, they were trained by US. It´s the side effect of those mistakes I mentioned above.

    That said, I do get aprehensive with China expanding their influence and domain, they´re buying ports, land and corporations here too, and they already own a lot of strategical stuff around the world. But they didn´t do that on their own, we must look at our role in this because the entire world was busy having a party and consuming cheap stuff made with low wage, child and slave work elsewhere. Until recently we were whistling by the graveyard, and in good part we still do (collectively, that is).

    China does ravage the land and the seas (but other superpowers did it in the past too, so there´s that), and they are opressing and killing and exploring their own people to”get there”. This sucks, mostly because this shows if they do it to their own, they could do it to others too – but didn´t other superpowers did the same in the past? China can aspire for a higher standard of living to their people, and TBH they didn´t shot a single bullet to bring all the Apples and Fords of the world to their shores – we handed them everything, at least most countries. Didn´t we preserve our environment and standard of living at the cost of China destroying theirs? There´s no free lunch, it´s a law of nature.

    In that sense, and perhaps something to debate, China is building their influence in relatively more peaceful ways than U.S. or UK or even Spain and others did in the past. Whether this will remain, or change, or bear positive fruits in the future, remains to be seen. But so far they´ve played the game the entire world has been playing, just they´re willing to sacrifice more and work harder to climb the world food chain – like many others did before them in the past too.

    I´m not american but I´ve lived, studied, worked and traveled to U.S. oftentimes. This is not a defense of China – I´m too old and too much westernized to change my hardware programming. I don´t trust China, but following the same logic I shouldn´t trust any other country or superpower, and instead look for, pursue and work hard for the best for my own country and people, while respecting others and their particularities, their choices.

    But again – I´d much rather live in a world under those original American values, and I honestly hope this continues if only as a counterbalance to the rising of the Chinese power.

  • Afghanistan might want to take note on what’s happening with the Uighur Muslims. Or how China has made such inroads into Kenya that the Kenyans in many places are effectively second class citizens. China will definitely be the “stronger friend”, and Afghanistan will be reduced to serfdom in their own country.

    • Making the Afghani serfs in their own country is too big a problem for any nation, the US couldn’t do it, the Russians couldn’t do it, the British tried twice failing both times, and finally even Alexander the great only suppressed their rebellion for a few years. It is a boneyard, a breaker of nations. They call parts of Afghanistan the ‘Hindu Kush,’ which literally translates into ‘The Killer of Men.’

  • I assume it’s lithium what China is after, and it certainly won’t hurt them to get Afghanistan to join the Belt and Road. But anyway, what does it have to do with prepping? Maybe if lithium goes preferentially to China, batteries could get more expensive?

  • It’s about oil. In a war between the US and China, the US could cut off the supply of crude to China and keep their navy in ports. The shipping routes have to pass close enough to Diego Garcia, so much so that the US could quickly shut off the supply of crude, and thus cripple the Chinese war machine.

    If however, China had an alternate route through to Iran via Pakistan, and some hotly contested parts of northern India, then the US could not cut off the supply of crude, and the US could not contain China.

    It’s probably the reason the US stayed so long in Afghanistan in the 1st place.

    Russia is a dark horse to the Chinese, they may supply oil, or they may not. Vietnam is again a dark horse, but they may or may not supply to the Chinese. Iran definitely would.

  • its not a recent thing. In fact, during the first time the US+ British troops invaded AFG, the chinese were there as 3rd parties + business spectors… Alot of AFGs in over there, during that time really disliked them, because the forefront offering they provided were whores for the foreign soldiers…..

    Add to the fact that afghans look like everything/anything, the foreign soldiers began associating “chinky” looking women w/whores…. so initially, (at a certain level), there was not alot of fuzzy feelings about the Chinese.

    However, the chinese at the same time period, really boostered up their support of Pakistan (India+ Israel, China+Pakistan), and if you go/went onto any mandarin-typing social forum, there’s been (for over 20 yrs) a strong central asian (islamic) and chinese “brotherhood” sentiment, celebrating eastern power…. (the decline of the west).

    Anyway, china has had their mitts there for a while, and this is just a sign of them coming out to the forefront. Nothing new, just more visible for those that don’t follow the area.

  • Rare Earth minerals appear to be available and abundant, close to the surface, in accessible parts of Afghanistan and the Chinese want them.

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