China’s interest in Afghanistan: Why the US needs to recognize the Taliban Regime

China pledged a 200 million Yuan ($31 million) aid to the Taliban government which includes Coronavirus vaccines and food supplies. Beijing claims this is just meant to be humanitarian in nature and essential in restoring order. This comes at a time when the United States is still trying to figure out whether to recognize the Taliban regime or not.


Image Source: Reuters

There are many pointers that indicate China’s interests in Afghanistan. China shares a short but significant border with Afghanistan, which means they have a proximate connection to Afghanistan that is over and above that of any other UN Security Council Permanent Member. This means China can easily integrate Afghanistan as a satellite state.

It must be recalled that the current Chinese administration’s Silk & Road Initiative seeks to consolidate China’s interests in the entire region. Therefore, by recognizing the Taliban regime, China would naturally get closer to integrate Afghanistan into its sphere of influence.


China’s Replacement of America in the Global South


In 2003, the United States sought to reduce its security risk in developing countries. This led to the closure of small American businesses in the Global South, including Latin America, Africa and Asia. On some levels, this helped the United States to focus on its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in that decade.


On the other hand, China moved to fill the gap in these developing countries and expand within a short time. China sent developmental aid to these developing countries in Africa and Asia. Elsewhere, in Latin America and the West, China sought to increase its trade links in ways that led to the shipment of cheap Chinese products.


In return, China sought to increase its influence and gain rights to natural resources in these developing countries. China has used various tactics and strategies to gain access and ship different minerals to territories it wields influence and control.


Afghanistan’s Lithium and China’s Growing Electric Car Industry


There are many minerals in the Afghanistan including gold, silver, iron, platinum, and uranium. However, Afghanistan's lithium stands out because it is an essential mineral for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars.


Some estimates put Afghanistan's lithium reserves to be over $1 trillion. This could be a good reason for China to seek a strategic leverage in Afghanistan. This can help China to develop and build its electric car industry and export it to the world.


Chinese Co-Option and a History of Supporting Dictatorships


Therefore, it comes as no surprise that China is seeking to lay the path for the recognition of a Taliban-led Afghan government. This will help China to recognize the regime and gain access to Afghanistan’s resources.


For some reason, the Taliban of this generation seem to be focused on building a stable government. This indicates the Taliban might have a good motive to take over the country and secure the borders, rather than focus on other things like revenge and a harsh religious regime.


Historically, China has not really had a problem supporting countries that had harsh dictatorships which were sanctioned. China supported the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and has been essential to the Myanmar Regime and North Korea as well as Iran. Therefore, it will not be out of place for China to support a Taliban government.


Furthermore, China was quiet and silent throughout the past 50 years in dealing with Afghanistan. China stayed out of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and did nothing when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. At this point though, China has a good reason to engage in Afghanistan and move things over the border into Chinese territory.


Where does this Leave the United States


America seems to be playing an idealistic game in Afghanistan.

The United States listened to the Afghan regime for many years and this regime could not safeguard a single inch of land in the land they were supposed to control as a sovereign elected government. This means the elected Afghan government either lost legitimacy or they never had legitimacy in the first place.


At the moment, many commentators who support the previous Afghan government seem to be raising a moral panic about the Taliban regime. Unfortunately, the US cannot do much about it now. Therefore, America has been put into a valley of decision and the Biden administration has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.


America’s need to Engage in the New Afghanistan


China’s involvement in Afghanistan means any form of sanctions would be limited. Iran was able to survive America’s maximum-pressure sanctions. The Iranian regime moved closer to China and survived the sanctions.


It is apparent that the US would not be best served by sanctioning and excluding the Taliban government. At the most basic level, the Anglo-American political tradition puts a bad government ahead of an anarchy. This means America might have to work with the Taliban regime at some point in the future.


Also, everyone is moving to recognize the new Taliban regime. The UN is asking for humanitarian aid to help the Taliban regime. The European Union is moving to provide aid as well. This leaves America in a difficult situation if they decide to continue listening to the deposed regime.


Finally, there is a global risk from Afghanistan which might be greater than terrorism - the opium trade. If the United States does not lead efforts to maintain a government that is committed to limiting the opium trade, the whole world might be facing a challenge greater than extremist terrorist groups. This is one of the greatest reasons to recognize the Taliban.


Strategic Implications


Circumstantial evidence show that China has a good reason to back the Taliban government of Afghanistan. This means any attempt by the US to treat the Taliban government harshly will not yield any good results.


The only responsible thing to do is to support the Taliban regime and keep them under watch. Thus, the US might have to help the Taliban regime to stabilize the country. Anything other than that could push Afghanistan deeper into China’s arms or worse still, foment a civil war which would cause the country to decline to a state worse than circumstances in the year 2001 where Afghanistan became a safe haven for terrorists.

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