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China Ready to Offer ‘Genuine’ Aid to Afghanistan, Cautions Nations to Lead, Not Pressure Taliban

© XinhuaChinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts the 4th China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue in Guiyang on June 4, 2021
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts the 4th China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue in Guiyang on June 4, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.08.2021
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The World Bank has predicted a 20% decline in international aid to Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of power, which could still grow further, depending on the new government’s course. Already inadequate to meet the country’s needs, neighboring China could fill that gap and then some, giving Beijing leverage in Kabul.
Chinese firms are ready to “deliver genuine investment and technical support” in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, officials told the Global Times, but noted that the threat of serious Western sanctions was likely to endanger their plans. Beijing has banked heavily on the hope the Taliban can be influenced to form a moderate and stable government with the promise of regional economic integration.
Afghanistan isn’t a totally new realm for Chinese investors, but the US withdrawal, coupled with the lightning-quick Taliban victory, have created perhaps the best conditions for peace in the country in decades. 
"We have benefited a lot from our business plans in Afghanistan in the past five years, and we believe the operation will run more effectively after the situation stabilizes,” Cassie, a Chinese worker at the China Town district of Kabul, where several Chinese-owned factories are located, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

US Versus Chinese Models

Because the US has pursued massive profit-making for its corporations in countries where it has intervened, Western thinkers have assumed China will have the same behavior as it becomes increasingly engaged in Afghanistan. Numerous articles and think pieces have been written about “$1 trillion in minerals” up for the taking and how Beijing is “about to tuck Afghanistan under Its Belt and Road.” However, as one official from a Chinese state-owned enterprise told the Global Times, their business activities "will be in line with Chinese national strategy," which is interested in stability first.
Many of them have, however, correctly estimated that Beijing will be hesitant to sink money into the Central Asian country, with which it shares a 44-mile-long border, at least until the Taliban provides some concrete results on its promises, which include a pledge to end support for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorist group. The Islamist terrorist group, which is connected to al-Qaeda and has sought refuge in Afghanistan in the past, is a Xinjiang separatist group that wants to separate China’s westernmost province from the country - a cause given Western blessings in recent years, as the US reorients to strategically compete with Beijing.
© XINHUAChinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political chief of Afghanistan's Taliban, in Tianjin, China July 28, 2021. Picture taken July 28, 2021.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political chief of Afghanistan's Taliban, in Tianjin, China July 28, 2021. Picture taken July 28, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political chief of Afghanistan's Taliban, in Tianjin, China July 28, 2021. Picture taken July 28, 2021.
Yu Minghui, director of the China Arab Economic and Trade Promotion Committee, told the outlet that Chinese businessmen had built up a great deal of goodwill with Afghans, including the Taliban, noting that the Islamist militia group has vowed to protect investors because "whoever stayed in the country” after the NATO withdrawal “is helping Afghans."
Many entrepreneurs the paper spoke with said they were relatively “immune” to western sanctions, but that if relations between Kabul and the US and UK continue to sour, it could make further investment risky enough to deter some businessmen.
The US and UK, the two major partners of the NATO occupation force in Afghanistan, have adopted a “wait-and-see” approach similar to China’s on whether the Taliban will keep its promises. For now, sanctions have been levied against the de facto Afghan government, including freezing $9.5 billion in assets in US institutions. On Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, that being overly aggressive in pressuring the Taliban was likely to backfire.
Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times there are "a thousand things waiting to be done" in Afghanistan, including rebuilding and expanding virtually every type of infrastructure, from communications to transport, mineral extraction, and agriculture, which China is uniquely situated to invest in heavily.

Regional Coordination

China isn’t the only country pursuing such a course, however: Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan have also been major players in coordinating a regional orientation toward the new Taliban government, which swept into power earlier this month after Kabul surrendered without a fight and President Ashraf Ghani fled into exile. Other countries, including Russia, India, Uzbekistan, and Turkey, have also been a part of the process.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that upcoming summits in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, next month of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) would place Afghanistan at the top of the agenda.
“Clearly, the issue of Afghanistan and the consequences of US actions, which haven’t been agreed [to by] anyone and are now affecting our neighbors, will be the focus of attention," Lavrov said.
 
© Anthony Maw; Wikimedia CommonsChinese and Pakistani border guards at Khunjerab Pass on the China-Pakistan border
Chinese and Pakistani border guards at Khunjerab Pass on the China-Pakistan border - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
Chinese and Pakistani border guards at Khunjerab Pass on the China-Pakistan border
The SCO, also called the Shanghai Pact, is likely to serve as a major vehicle for economic integration of Afghanistan. Kabul has been an observer since 2012, but repeatedly failed to win approval for admission.
While the US-backed Afghan government had pursued SCO membership in order to gain an upper hand in its struggle against the Taliban, there are common sense justifications to motivate any ruling party to seek increased economic integration. For example, according to a count by The Diplomat, in 2017-2018, 87% of Afghanistan’s imports came from SCO countries and 57% of its exports went to SCO members. With six of eight SCO members being Afghanistan’s neighbors, the centrally located country could become a major transit hub and its products would gain easy access to any number of regional markets.
Indeed, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen recently told China Global Television that investment by Beijing would be welcomed in the future.
“We need to rebuild our country and to create employment for our people,” Shaheen said. “We have so much need for other countries’ assistance.”
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