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China may have pinned some hopes on Afghanistan in recent years. The country on the Hindu Kush is geopolitically favorably situated and could have served as a potential hub for Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road project. In addition, China had hoped for large deposits of raw materials, not the least rare earths. But this never came to pass. Under the protection of NATO troops, China wanted to invest a lot in Afghanistan. But almost none of the major projects have come to fruition, as Finn Mayer-Kuckuk has analyzed. The most important Afghan export goods to the People’s Republic were not high-tech metals, but nuts and animal hair.
As sneering as the comments in Chinese state newspapers directed at the West were after the fall of Kabul, the Taliban victory doesn’t quite suit the CCP leadership in Beijing either. Because China despises any kind of unpredictability, even more than a dispute with the US and its European allies.
But a different move by Beijing was thoroughly calculated. Largely unnoticed by the international public, back in April, the Chinese government invited itself into TikTok group ByteDance and now sits right at the table at the board of directors. What was once only claimed by Trump now could become reality: The video app, particularly popular among kids in the US and Europe, poses a security risk.
Not a good prospect. Nevertheless, I hope you have an insightful read!
The Taliban: unloved new old neighbors
China would like to integrate Afghanistan into its own foreign trade system, the new Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For China, the conditions for Afghanistan are ideal. The soil is said to contain rich deposits of highly coveted rare earth metals as well as copper, gold and iron. Even lithium can be mined here, the basic material for batteries in electric cars and mobile phones. Deposits of natural gas and oil have also been identified. If properly mined, these raw materials could make both countries very rich.
To top it all off, there is its geographical location. Afghanistan connects South and Central Asia, as well as West and East Asia. It could become a hub for the Silk Road trade if it had the necessary ports, roads, and train lines. Their construction, in turn, would create growth and jobs for years to come, both for China and for Afghanistan. An oft-repeated assessment from the early days of the BRI was the economic integration of Afghanistan in ways previously thought impossible.
This high potential is now also the reason for China to put up a good front and court the Taliban (as reported by China.Table). But experts doubt that a beneficial economic partnership can really be formed with its regime. “Chinese leaders stress the geographic importance of Afghanistan to China,” says Francesca Ghiretti, a Silk Road expert at the China Research Institute Merics. “But if deep cooperation is to happen, the Taliban would have to change their style of governance.”