Until recently, China had never been found associating itself with Afghanistan proactively. However, it has always been cautious of the ongoing developments in the landlocked country which neighbours its Uyghur-populated province.
With the passage of time, it dawned upon Beijing that it was not viable for its economic and security interests to leave Afghanistan unmonitored. Thus, it began to engage with both global and regional players to ensure that stability prospers in Afghanistan. All these engagements were meant to ensure that China does not have to suffer the ripple effects of instability in Afghanistan.
Threats to Xinjiang
The People’s Republic of China faces an imminent security threat in the shape of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Uyghur jihadist organization, aiming to get a separate and independent East Turkestan state out of China’s western province known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The United Nations Security Council had declared it to be a terrorist organization as it had been involved in several terrorist activities and incidents, specifically in China.
The Xinjiang province, which the ETIM refers to as “East Turkestan”, is a strategically important region having a 76-km border with Afghanistan. In the past, this border had been a safe passage to the Uyghur jihadists, allowing them to go in and out of China at their disposal. Beijing conveyed its apprehensions to Kabul and asked the concerned stakeholders to ensure that ETIM was not given any breathing space.
Before his death in 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Caliph of the Islamic State) had issued a call for jihad in mainland China. This highlights the fact that there is an explicit common ideology between ETIM and IS in terms of their extremist views and ambitions. In addition, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), another terrorist outfit, has been targeting Chinese workers in Balochistan. Thus, all this is making China view the ETIM, IS, and TTP as potential threats not only to its internal security but also as a security hazard for its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Central Asia and the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Security is the prerequisite of economic prosperity and development and Xinjiang is the lynchpin on which the success of the BRI depends, as vital trade routes run through this region, but these terrorist outfits are motivated to haunt China’s ambitions to prosper along with its neighbors. Thus, China finds it highly prudent and necessary to crack down on these extremist outfits.
A Rich Country
In terms of economic gains, resource-rich Afghanistan is what China is looking to explore. The United States Geological Survey states that the country has huge reserves of natural resources worth $1 trillion including 16 trillion cubic feet of gas, 1.6 trillion barrels of crude oil, and 500 billion barrels of liquified natural gas. These resources might invoke Chinese interest as it is striving to locate diverse energy providers in light of the limited global supplies since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Afghanistan’s market space has a vacuum yet to be filled by international players. Thus, China can further its market size by exporting its goods to the landlocked country. However, all these developments are linked to stability in Afghanistan. China is using its economic, diplomatic, and strategic fronts to ensure that Afghanistan and the ruling cadre gain credibility before the international bodies.
China has time and time again asked the global powers with special emphasis on the United States to release the frozen assets of war-torn Afghanistan, which amount to about 10 billion dollars. It has been engaging its regional partners, particularly Iran, Russia, and Pakistan to give it a lending hand in uplifting the bedridden state of affairs in Afghanistan.
In addition, China aims to increase its political influence and economic clout across Central Asia and the Middle East, and Afghanistan being at crossroads between these regions makes it prudent for the Chinese stakeholders to ensure that the landlocked country enjoys a stable domestic environment. The Afghani stakeholders have not only appreciated China lending it an olive branch but also assured Beijing of not letting any terrorist outfit be either an internal or an external security threat.
China, however, continues to urge Afghani counterparts to take solid measures which would force these terrorist outfits to go extinct. This constant urge on the part of China exists because it has a strong incentive in ensuring regional security to keep its investments safe and profitable along with safeguarding its workers.
Recently, the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan held the 5th Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue. It was stressed in the said dialogue that stability in Afghanistan was necessary for the region in general. In addition, the participants stressed tackling security threats and challenges that pose a severe threat and put regional and global security in jeopardy.
China seems to believe in a quid pro quo when it comes to its partnership with Afghanistan. It is willing to invest and uplift the latter’s economic stature, but it wants it to deal with the militants hiding in the territory with sheer force. There is no doubt in the fact that a stable Afghanistan can make China continue with its economic expansion while keeping its borders safe and sound.
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