China appears to be preparing to ramp up its involvement in Afghanistan as US troops complete their final withdrawal — with Beijing eyeing the war-torn nation for investment and influence opportunities.
Beijing has been vocal, especially in recent weeks, in slamming the United States for pushing forward with its troop withdrawal, citing the deteriorating situation on the ground. Still, it had not made any public commitments regarding a response.
Kabul authorities, the Daily Beast reported Sunday, have become much more deeply engaged with Chinese leaders as the two work toward a deal to invest in Afghanistan’s infrastructure through China’s international “Belt and Road Initiative.”
The trillion-dollar program has funded multiple projects — generally focusing on hard infrastructure like airports, roads and seaports — throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
It has been used by the Chinese Communist Party to grow its influence by providing infrastructure loans to poorer countries in return for control over local resources.
Citing a source close of the Afghan government, the outlet reported that the deal would extend the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of the Beijing-led initiative.
The project has included the construction of highways, railways and energy pipelines that reach to Afghanistan.
Speaking to the outlet, another source said the construction of a major road between Afghanistan and Peshawar, a city in northwestern Pakistan, is one of the specific projects on the table.
“There is a discussion on a Peshawar-Kabul motorway between the authorities in Kabul and Beijing,” the source said, “Linking Kabul with Peshawar by road means Afghanistan’s formal joining of CPEC.”
The US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan remains in motion, a process on which President Biden placed a Sept. 11 deadline.
Biden announced that deadline in April, offering US troops an additional four months from former President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw all troops from the nation by May 1.
In a speech explaining his decision, the US president argued that the US had achieved its goal of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and destroying al Qaeda, his terror network, a contention that many progressives and a growing number of Republicans support.
Critics of the move have cautioned that it could lead to the creation of a new ISIS, as President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq did in 2011.
Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian confirmed that China and Afghanistan were having discussions on a CPEC extension, though he declined to discuss the matter in detail.
His boss, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ridiculed the US this past Saturday over its handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, calling Americans “the origin of problems in Afghanistan.”
As a result, Wang argued, the US “should be responsible for making sure the transition in the country will be stable. The US cannot evade responsibility, and cannot cause instability or war by withdrawing troops.”
“As friendly neighbors that share the flow of mountain ranges and rivers, China is determined to support the peaceful transition in Afghanistan,” he continued, going on to say that the US was not a “defender” of the Afghan people.
The two Beijing officials were far from the only ones to speak ill of the United States with regard to Afghanistan.
Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, its equivalent of an ambassador, decried the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan while speaking to a UN body last Tuesday.
“Despite the significant progress made in international counter-terrorism cooperation, the world remains confronted with tangible threats of terrorism,” Zhang told the group.
“ISIS is very active in Iraq and Syria, and the withdrawal of foreign troops has led to a sharp deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan, with terrorist forces such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement waxing strong and wreaking havoc.”
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