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China’s rumored ambitions to dive into Afghanistan are overstated and unrealistic, experts say

  • While China has made clear its approval of the Taliban, that doesn't necessarily mean it's ready to commit to doing business with them.  
  • Afghanistan's mineral wealth is staggering — but security risks and a lack of infrastructure make investment there difficult.

In this article

View of a gold mine in Nor Aaba, Takhar province, Afghanistan.Omar Sobhani | Reuters

One of the first things many Western pundits predicted as the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan unraveled was the replacement in that power vacuum by China, long a critic of and strategic adversary to the United States. 

Afghanistan has trillions of dollars worth of untapped mineral resources, and is in dire need of infrastructure investment, making it in theory a prime ground for China's expansive Belt and Road Initiative. What's more, China is one of the few countries and the only economic superpower to have so far established friendly relations with the Taliban, who shocked the world in early August by overtaking Afghanistan in a matter of days. 

In what many see as a symbolic taunt to the West, Chinese state officials have chastised Washington and its 20-year war, and cautiously welcomed the Taliban's announcement of its new government of hardliners and FBI-wanted terrorists this week.  

Taliban take control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021.Wali Sabawoon | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"This has ended the more than three weeks of anarchy in Afghanistan and is a necessary step for Afghanistan's restoration of domestic order and postwar reconstruction," Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday, according to a transcript published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. 

But beyond the statements, many regional experts are not convinced of China's enthusiasm for barreling into the war-torn Central Asian state on its western border.  

China is 'very aware' of security risks 

China has long been wary of Islamic extremism in its far west. It's also determined not to fall into the same quagmires that the Soviet Union and the U.S. were sucked into with Afghanistan, analysts say. 

"China is interested in economic engagement in Afghanistan and extension of its Belt and Road, including reconstruction and investing in untapped mineral resources of the landlocked country," Ekta Raghuwanshi, Stratfor's South Asia analyst for RANE, told CNBC.  

"However," she cautioned, "it wouldn't invest substantially anytime soon given security concerns in Afghanistan and proximity to China's restive Xinjiang province," she said, referring to Uyghur militants and the resurgence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. 


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