LONDON: China has well-calculated chalked out comprehensive plans to replace the very influential position of the United States after the withdrawal of US forces from their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday. According to Daily Beast, American news website, China was already preparing to enter the war-torn country to fill the vacuum left by U.S. and NATO troops.
The news is circulated worldwide and according to it, Authorities in Kabul are considering extending a $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
First launched in 2013 by Chinese president Xi Jinping, and written into the Chinese constitution in 2017, it is billed by Beijing officials as a global infrastructure development fund which aims to better connect China to the rest of the world.
Aimed to be completed by 2049, China has been offering huge loans to countries in order to support them in creating better infrastructure including the building of new highways, railways and energy pipelines between Pakistan and China, to Afghanistan.
One project being discussed is the building of a major road between Afghanistan and the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
‘There is a discussion on a Peshawar-Kabul motorway between the authorities in Kabul and Beijing,’ a source told The Daily Beast. ‘Linking Kabul with Peshawar by road means Afghanistan’s formal joining of CPEC.’
China had been attempting to extend its BRI to Afghanistan for at least the last five years but with the U.S. so heavily involved in the Afghani government, Kabul was hesitant to approve any deals fearing upset in Washington.
But now American troops have left Bagram Airbase, China is about to be welcomed with open arms.
‘There has been continuous engagement between the Afghan government and the Chinese for the past few years… [but] that made the U.S. suspicious of president Ashraf Ghani government,’ a source told the Beast.
‘Ghani needs an ally with resources, clout and ability to provide military support to his government.’
Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson Zhao Lijian confirmed last month China was having discussions with third parties, including Afghanistan.
China is hoping that through its BRI strategy it can connect Asia with Africa and Europe through land and maritime networks that would span across 60 countries.
The strategy would enhance China’s influence across the world with an estimated value of $4 trillion.
Afghanistan could give China a strategic foothold in the region for trade with the country acting as a central hub connecting the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe.
‘The Chinese have very carefully cultivated many political leaders to buy political support for the projects in Afghanistan at the same time. The Chinese government can ill afford to see Afghanistan not webbed through the BRI,’ the source continued.
‘Certainly, the investment that would be injected into the economy will employ many people… and in the absence of other economic activities people may welcome it. But the political landscape in Afghanistan stands divided, and there will be some ethnic leaders who will oppose BRI, not because they see disadvantages, but because external actors want to stop it.’
America’s departure from the country would give added impetus for Beijing to restart talks over the idea of having Kabul to join the BRI.
‘Washington’s departure from Afghanistan gives Beijing a strategic opportunity,’ Michael Kugelman, an expert in South Asian affairs told the Beast.
‘There will certainly be a vacuum to fill, but we shouldn’t overstate China’s capacity to fill it. With Afghanistan’s security situation sure to spiral out of control, there’s only so much China will be able to do to deepen its footprint.
‘It will depend in great part on whether China reaches an understanding with the Taliban, which will see its influence continue to grow whether it holds power or not. If the Taliban is okay with China building out infrastructure and other projects in Afghanistan, Beijing will be in a much better place.’
‘China could well bring the Taliban on board with BRI. The insurgents have said they will support development projects if they serve Afghan national interests,’ Kugelman suggested.
China’s Belt and Road program would really depend on a lasting peace in what has traditionally been one of the most unstable regions on the planet.
Beijing has supposedly already offered infrastructure and energy projects worth billions of dollars to the Taliban in return for peace in Afghanistan.
‘The Taliban isn’t the only challenge to overcome,’ Kugelman noted. ‘There are many sources of violence, both anti- and pro-state, in Afghanistan. So China will still face an extremely insecure environment, even if it gets Taliban buy-in for its projects.’
It has been billed as China’s modern-day answer to the famous Silk Road – a series of trade routes which acted as the main connection between east and west for nearly 2,000 years.
China now wants a new ‘Silk Road’ – many in fact – and it is willing to dip deep into its pockets to pay for it.
Enter China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – otherwise known as the BRI scheme.
First launched in 2013 by president Xi Jinping, and written into the Chinese constitution in 2017, it is billed by Beijing officials as a global infrastructure development fund which aims to better connect China to the rest of the world.
Aimed to be completed by 2049, China has been offering huge loans to the countries in order to support them in creating better infrastructure.
Sounds great, right? So what’s the catch?
Well, the scheme has been criticized, primarily by western powers, as an attempt by China to engage in neo-imperialism through ‘debt trap diplomacy’.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has previously warned countries against taking up BRI projects, because the terms of repayment are too harsh.
In some countries, such as Montenegro, governments have signed up to deals in which China will be able to seize land if debts can’t be paid.
Earlier this year, concern was raised in Kenya that China may try to seize the port of Mombasa if the country defaults on its loan from China used to finance the loss-making Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
In March, Kenya’s National Treasury cabinet secretary Ukur Yatani attempted to calm such fears, by saying that the port had not been offered as collateral.
But western powers are growing increasingly concerned about the scheme, so much so that the US, along with Japan and Australia, launched their own project – The Blue Dot Network – in 2019.
A report by US publication Forbes, meanwhile, recently compared China’s BRI scheme, and Beijing’s use of it, to ‘mob’ style tactics.
The publication reported on the situation in Malaysia, whose rejected a proposal for a BRI deal, but were then subjected to political and economic pressure to take it.
Despite its critics, a 2020 report by Chatham House – the Royal Institute of International Affairs – found ‘limited evidence’ that China’s BRI scheme was engaged in ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy.