China has several interests in Afghanistan, and its role in the country has become increasingly significant following the United States’ exit. China’s interests in Afghanistan can be broadly categorized as follows:
1. Regional Stability and Security: China is concerned about the potential spillover of instability from Afghanistan into its western Xinjiang region, where it faces security challenges related to separatism and extremism. China seeks stability in Afghanistan to prevent the rise of terrorist groups that could threaten its national security and regional stability.
2. Economic Opportunities and Resources: Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, including minerals, rare earth elements, and hydrocarbon reserves. China, as the world’s second-largest economy and a major consumer of resources, is interested in accessing and developing these resources for its economic growth and industrial needs. Additionally, China aims to expand its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connectivity and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, furthering its regional economic integration plans.
3. Counterterrorism Cooperation: China is committed to combating terrorism and extremism. It sees Afghanistan as a crucial partner in addressing these threats, particularly in light of the presence of militant groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which China considers a significant security concern. China seeks to work with Afghanistan to enhance intelligence sharing, border security, and counterterrorism measures.
4. Diplomatic Influence and Regional Dynamics: China aims to enhance its diplomatic influence and strategic presence in the region. It seeks to be involved in Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace negotiations, contributing to stability and playing a role in shaping the country’s political future. China also aims to strengthen its relationships with neighboring countries, including Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asian states, through its involvement in Afghan affairs.
Following the US exit, China has several options and approaches in Afghanistan:
a) Economic Engagement: China has the option to increase its economic engagement in Afghanistan, including investments in infrastructure development, resource extraction, and trade partnerships. Chinese companies can play a significant role in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan’s economy.
b) Diplomatic and Political Support: China can use its diplomatic influence to support an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan and encourage intra-Afghan dialogue. It can leverage its relationships with various Afghan factions and regional actors to promote stability and mediate in the peace process.
c) Security Cooperation: China may enhance its security cooperation with Afghanistan by providing military assistance, intelligence sharing, and training to Afghan security forces. This cooperation would focus on countering terrorism, managing border security, and preventing cross-border militant activities.
d) Regional Coordination: China can foster regional coordination and cooperation on Afghanistan through mechanisms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and trilateral dialogue with Pakistan and Afghanistan. This approach would involve aligning regional interests, facilitating dialogue, and promoting stability.
e) Humanitarian Assistance: China has the option to provide humanitarian assistance and support to Afghanistan, particularly in areas such as infrastructure development, healthcare, and education. This approach can help win hearts and minds and contribute to stability and socio-economic development.
Overall, China’s interests in Afghanistan revolve around regional stability, economic opportunities, counterterrorism cooperation, and diplomatic influence. China’s role in Afghanistan following the US exit is expected to expand, with options including economic engagement, diplomatic support, security cooperation, regional coordination, and humanitarian assistance. China’s approach in Afghanistan will likely be shaped by its strategic calculations, regional dynamics, and its desire to protect its own interests and security.