Afghan-Strategies: USA out, China in

Donald Trump wants to pull troops out of Afghanistan, at the same time China is expanding its influence. Beijing is working on the government in Kabul, pushing for economic contracts - and is supposedly sending soldiers. (Picture: Afghanischer Sicherheitsberater Hamdullah Mohib, Chinas Außenminister Wang Yi)

The first trip abroad always has a special symbol for a head of state. In the case of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he made his inaugural trip to the People's Republic of China in 2014. His security advisor Hamdullah Mohib also traveled there a few days ago. In Beijing, he discussed with foreign minister Wang Yi how stability can be achieved in the Hindu Kush in the long term - and how the government of Xi Jinping can help. Now that the US seems to want to withdraw thousands of soldiers from Afghanistan.

China has long been more than one of Afghanistan's largest trading partners. Beijing has been helping the Afghan security forces build a training camp in the Wakham Corridor (see map below) since August last year, according to information from the South China Morning Post. The valley in the Hindu Kush stretches to the border with China, where the Xinjiang region begins. According to the newspaper, the Afghan embassy denied that Chinese soldiers were also stationed there. But there are reports that Chinese units have already been sighted in the corridor.

The Xinjiang region is of particular importance to the Chinese government. There lives the Muslim minority of Uighurs, which is oppressed by the government. Uighurs had already known about terrorist attacks in Beijing, for example. The Chinese leadership in turn has built up an immense police and surveillance apparatus in the region. About one million Uighurs are said to be in reeducation camps, and international human rights violations are criticized, but nothing can be confirmed and there is no solid evidence. The concern that Central Asian militant Islamism might spread to Xinjiang and Uighurs radicalize with the Taliban in the neighboring country is a key driver of China's involvement.

"Security has become a priority for the Chinese government, not just in Afghanistan but worldwide," says Helena Legarda of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin. "We are seeing her expanding her influence in the field, from the military base in Djibouti, to acting as mediator in various conflicts, to joint naval exercises with other countries." This is a clear departure from Beijing's earlier foreign policy maxim: non-interference.

Meanwhile, the Chinese leadership is also working for a reconciliation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In mid-December last year, Foreign Minister Wang invited his counterparts for a three-party meeting. Afterwards, he announced, according to "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung": "Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to improve their bilateral relations as soon as possible." Earlier, he announced that China was trying to resolve "Chinese-style" conflicts and play a bigger role in securing global stability.


Meeting with the Taliban

"In recent years, China has repeatedly acted as an intermediary, for example between Israel and the Palestinians, Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the conflicting parties in Syria," says Merics expert Legarda. So far, however, have brought no great results. "The leadership in Beijing, however, is clear that if they want to claim an important international role as a major power, they must also engage more internationally, but without military intervention in conflict." Many Chinese diplomats are said to have met with the Taliban leadership from Afghanistan and pressed for peace processes.

Selfless is the commitment in most cases not. Stability and security play an important role in Chinese investments. This also explains the course in Afghanistan: China plans to expand its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghan territory, said former Pakistani Ambassador Qazi Humayun from the newspaper "Nikkei Asian Review". The CPEC, which includes the construction of expressways and trains, is part of the gigantic "New Silk Road" infrastructure project in which China plans to invest more than $ 900 billion. "When the Chinese government sends out its citizens and companies for New Silk Road projects, they need to be protected," says Legarda.

The approach between Beijing and Kabul is still favored by the course of Donald Trump. The US president is said to have instructed his ministry of defense, according to media reports, to initiate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. This should have been his plan for a while, but his now-defeated Secretary of Defense James Mattis had been able to stop him. Mattis resigned following the US President's decision to withdraw all American soldiers from Syria.

 "The US withdrawal from the international scene leaves more room for China, but that does not mean that it necessarily fills it," says Legarda. Beijing uses the US withdrawal to show the world that China can be a great power and take responsibility.