China’s Interests in Afghanistan
China needs a stable and secure neighbourhood for its ‘Peaceful Development’ plan that also emphasises on a stable and secure neighbourhood. In 2006, China and Afghanistan signed the ‘Treaty of Good Neighbourly Friendship and Cooperation’ to lay out basic political principles and main directions of bilateral relations.
The region assumes more importance for China as it forms an important link in the ‘New Silk Road’ and is interconnected to China’s Western Development Strategy (WDS). Although the Road does not pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan, it does pass through Urumqi and Khorgas in Xinjiang. Thus China is concerned about the overall security environment in the country that can affect the trade conducted through the corridor. The WDS that essentially aims to develop the western provinces of China is often disrupted by the Uyghur terrorism in the Xinjiang province.
Thousands of Uyghurs fighters are being trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been several instances of attacks in the past few months alone. Consequently, China has witnessed instability spilling into Beijing as well. During the 1990s, China relied on Pakistan to manage its relationship with the extremist group but now it is sceptical of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Tools of Engagement
In August 2014, China held the first and the biggest military drill under the banner of the SCO in Inner Mongolia. The drill was aimed at training 7,000 servicemen from five SCO member states to test the troops’ effectiveness in fighting terrorism.
Initiated in 2011, the Istanbul Process-‘Heart of Asia’ is a unique regional cooperation mechanism on Afghanistan that provides a platform for regional countries to improve interaction with Afghanistan. It aims to bring stability and development to the region. The fourth ministerial conference was held recently, which saw the participation of Chinese Premier Le Keqiang who strongly emphasised on the five points of China’s interests in the Afghanistan. During the conference, China put forward a proposal, titled ‘peace and reconciliation forum’ with an aim to revive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It looks forward to involve representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the Taliban.
China will be training 3,000 Afghan professionals in various fields over the next five years but will never put ‘boots on the ground’. Its role in Afghanistan will be a litmus test of its regional strategy. This can really help in establishing its image as a responsible global player in contrast to its assertive behaviour in the South and East China Seas.
Notably, China is interested in economic reconstruction of Afghanistan as much as it caters to Beijing’s foreign economic policy with the ambition of a global power. China’s endgame therefore is to emerge as a responsible regional power and eventually a global power.