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China, Pakistan include Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

2023 May 10, 18:13, Beijing [China]

 The dangers of protectionism, hegemony and power politics that China warned the world about at the recent SCO foreign ministers' meeting is precisely what the communist country advocates as it looks at Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as its new resource region.

Foreign minister Qin Gang said in Goa, India, at the meeting that the world is faced with multiple crises and challenges featuring a resurgence of the Cold War mentality, headwinds of unilateral protectionism, and rising hegemonism and power politics. He called on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states to uphold strategic independence and deepen security cooperation.

Around the time Gang was extolling the merits of transparent internationalism, the Taliban, which controls Afghanistan, agreed to extend the Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan, potentially bringing in billions of dollars to fund infrastructure in the nation.

Media reports said that the Taliban has agreed with China and Pakistan to extend the Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan, potentially drawing in billions of dollars to fund infrastructure projects in the sanctions-hit country.

The reports said Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met in Islamabad and pledged to work together on Afghanistan's reconstruction process, including taking the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to the Taliban-ruled nation.

"The two sides agreed to continue their humanitarian and economic assistance for the Afghan people and enhance development cooperation in Afghanistan, including through extension of CPEC to Afghanistan," the report quoted a joint statement issued by Pakistan's foreign ministry following the meeting.

It said Chinese and Pakistani officials have previously discussed extending the project to Afghanistan, built under President Xi Jinping's flagship Belt and Road initiative that started almost a decade ago. It stated the cash-strapped Taliban government had expressed readiness to participate in the project and the prospect of getting much-needed infrastructure investment.

"The Taliban's top diplomat, Amir Khan Muttaqi, travelled to Islamabad to meet his Chinese and Pakistani counterparts and reached an agreement, his deputy spokesman Hafiz Zia Ahmad said by phone," it said. "The Taliban have also harboured hopes for China to boost investments in the country's rich resources, estimated to be $1 trillion. The government inked its first contract in January with a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation to extract oil from the northern Amu Darya basin."

China and Pakistan now jointly ask the West, especially the United States, to unfreeze Afghanistan's overseas financial assets -- USD 9 billion of Afghanistan's central bank reserves held overseas on concerns the funds will be used for terror activities and blocked from Taliban accessing them. The US later agreed to release half of it to bolster the economy but put it on hold after the Taliban imposed certain school and work restrictions on Afghan women last year.

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013, seeks to connect Asia to Africa and Europe, to improve regional integration, increase trade and stimulate economic growth. It also connects China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe.

China has also considered Afghanistan's membership and participation in the BRI, with a delegation from Afghanistan participating in its forum in 2017. Afghan delegations have also been participating in Russian economic and trade development forums.

However, despite some agreements in including Afghanistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), no progress has currently been made regarding China's economic presence through the BRI in the country.

After the withdrawal of the US and the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021, Beijing has pursued greater economic interaction with the Taliban by expanding economic consultations with its authorities (despite the lack of recognition), strengthening the embassy in Kabul, and accepting the Taliban in Beijing. China, along with its global thoughts and ideas, and its nationalistic, historical, and China's authoritarian nostalgia, by encouraging the interaction of the international community with the Taliban and cancelling economic sanctions, has seen the efficient government in Afghanistan as an essential need to solve the country's economic challenges.

In its foreign policy, Beijing gives priority to economic interests. Although it does not want to undertake unilateral and extensive economic costs in Afghanistan, by considering the economic opportunities and threats, it has begun supporting the construction of the Uzbekistan-Pakistan cross-border railway through Afghanistan and the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan Corridor Agreement.

Over the past 18 months, China has practically supported the expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan (as part of the BRI). This has become more obvious in the form of China's positions, including bilateral agreements and declarations with the Taliban, the China-Pakistan agreement, and trilateral agreements between China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In cooperation with Pakistan, China is trying to strengthen its economic position in Afghanistan and expand common interests based on win-win principles.

Afghanistan's joining the BRI means strengthening Pakistan's transit routes, especially Gwadar Port and the Trans-Afghan' Mazar Sharif - Kabul - Peshawar' corridor. However, this has been hampered by disagreements concerning the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. Trade and transit potential has consequently been reduced as a result.

In fact, by supporting and guiding Afghanistan to the path of independent development or showing economic carrots, China seeks to protect its multi-billion-dollar investments and infrastructure projects of the CPEC project in Pakistan.

In other words, Beijing needs Afghanistan's active support for BRI. On the other hand, according to the long-term memorandum of understanding of the 25-year contract between Iran and China, China considers Afghanistan a puzzle connecting the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. Afghanistan's inclusion in the BRI promises China better access to Central Asia.

Beijing is pursuing its Belt and Road Initiative in Afghanistan as a medium-term play. China's annual commercial and investment engagement in Afghanistan is not yet significant. Until it can be ensured that no damage is done to China, it remains unlikely that further declarations and approaches of the BRI in the country will be implemented - until at least 2026. Then financial risk attitudes may relax somewhat in Beijing and permit a refocus towards Afghanistan redevelopment and integration. However, China's approach of testing conditions and increasing its BRI presence in Afghanistan will explore and implement low-risk economic opportunities in the short term. 


china Pakistan BRI Belt and Road Index Afghanistan China-Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC
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