Monday, September 20, 2021

China calibrating its position toward Taliban with an eye on its economic interests – CPEC, rare-earths

China is continuously calibrating its policy to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban militants in the aftermath of the fall of the government of former President Ashraf Ghani. China said on Thursday that Afghanistan Taliban had become more rational than it was two decades ago and called on other nations to be more “objective” in judging the situation facing Afghanistan.

Experts say that China’s approach toward Afghanistan has been equally guided by its economic interests in the country besides security concerns. As per western media reports this week, China appears to be eyeing to clinch lucrative projects to exploit mineral-rich Afghanistan, especially the trillions of dollars worth of rare-earth metals which Chinese official media reacted to sharply.

While the US’ bungled and embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan is still shocking the world, the American media has already started to worry about possible cooperation between the Afghan Taliban and China, especially when it comes to Afghanistan’s rare-earth resources, state media said on Thursday.

The US troops’ withdrawal and the drastic change in Afghanistan’s situation is undoubtedly a heavy blow to US economic interests in Afghanistan and the wider region, it said. The rare-earth sector is one in which China has a strong advantage and it is a sector that plays a critical role in the development of strategic emerging industries, it said, adding that China is involved in several projects in Afghanistan.

Chinese Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that China was aware of the suspicions towards the Taliban but added that “nothing in the world is set in stone”. On Wednesday, China said it will decide on extending diplomatic recognition to the Taliban in Afghanistan after the formation of the government in the country, which it hoped would be “open, inclusive and broadly representative”. It has also called Taliban to shun its support to terror groups in the region.

Rare-earth metals in Afghanistan were estimated to be worth anywhere between USD one trillion to USD three trillion in 2020, as per reports. Rare-earth metals are a key component for a host of advanced technologies like hi-tech electronic equipment, phones and hi-tech missile guidance systems among others.

As per reports, China provides more than 85 per cent of the world’s rare earths and it is home to about two-thirds of the global supply of rare metals and minerals like antimony and barite. At the height of the trade war with the US in 2019, China threatened to regulate the metals exports which could cause serious shortages of raw materials for the American high-tech industry.

Experts warn the Taliban insurgents have emerged with resources that are a “very dangerous proposition for the world,” with minerals in Afghanistan that “can be exploited.” It should be an international initiative to make sure that if any country is agreeing to exploit its minerals on behalf of the Taliban, to only do it under strict humanitarian conditions where human rights, and rights for women are preserved in the situation,” experts said.

After being thrown out of power 20 years ago during US-led war on terrorism, the Taliban have realized that they need to change policies to alter their image. At present, the Taliban has to deal with two issues, settling internal disputes and reforming itself. Several factions have been established, including local, overseas, combined, and hardline factions.

Even if Taliban is trying to send positive signals through a press conference, it will be difficult for the international community to believe them because it may not be that easy for the Taliban to immediately change its doctrine.

As per reports, as of the end of 2020, China’s accumulated non-financial direct investment in Afghanistan totalled USD 630 million, mainly focused on mining, communications, and road construction. China is also aggressively pushing for the extension of the multi-billion dollars China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan and China expects it to pick up pace after the formation of new government in the war-torn country.

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