Beijing’s Afghan Gamble

#1
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Beijing’s Afghan Gamble

By ROBERT D. KAPLAN
Published: October 6, 2009
IN Afghanistan’s Logar Province, just south of Kabul, the geopolitical future of Asia is becoming apparent: American troops are providing security for a Chinese state-owned company to exploit the Aynak copper reserves, which are worth tens of billions of dollars. While some of America’s NATO allies want to do as little as possible in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, China has its eyes on some of world’s last untapped deposits of copper, iron, gold, uranium and precious gems, and is willing to take big risks in one of the most violent countries to secure them.

In Afghanistan, American and Chinese interests converge. By exploiting Afghanistan’s metal and mineral reserves, China can provide thousands of Afghans with jobs, thus generating tax revenues to help stabilize a tottering Kabul government. Just as America has a vision of a modestly stable Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremists, China has a vision of Afghanistan as a secure conduit for roads and energy pipelines that will bring natural resources from the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. So if America defeats Al Qaeda and the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban, China’s geopolitical position will be enhanced.
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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/opinion/07kaplan.html?_r=1&ref=opinion
 
#2
The Chinese could probably put in double or triple the number of troops already in afghanistan and still have enough left to go on an invasion rampage round half of south east asia.
 

Biped

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
Sweet. China has a well developed sense of international diplomacy that allows it's commerce arms to work with just about any nation, despotic or not, much to the chagrin of the US which thought it had a monopoly on such activities.

The Chinese are, imho, the most likely to succeed in terms of benevolent trade with afghanistan, and possibly are the least likely to be attacked, especially after their deft handling of AQ over the massacring incident in China.
 
#4
Biped said:
Sweet. China has a well developed sense of international diplomacy that allows it's commerce arms to work with just about any nation, despotic or not, much to the chagrin of the US which thought it had a monopoly on such activities.

The Chinese are, imho, the most likely to succeed in terms of benevolent trade with afghanistan, and possibly are the least likely to be attacked, especially after their deft handling of AQ over the massacring incident in China.
I wonder if the Chinese would care to provide a "Security Force" for its investment - say - oh around maybe 30,000 troops?

And of course the legal and Human Rights infrastructure as well. Getting them in may be easy but getting them out when they are in .............
 

Biped

LE
Book Reviewer
#5
rickshaw-major said:
Biped said:
Sweet. China has a well developed sense of international diplomacy that allows it's commerce arms to work with just about any nation, despotic or not, much to the chagrin of the US which thought it had a monopoly on such activities.

The Chinese are, imho, the most likely to succeed in terms of benevolent trade with afghanistan, and possibly are the least likely to be attacked, especially after their deft handling of AQ over the massacring incident in China.
I wonder if the Chinese would care to provide a "Security Force" for its investment - say - oh around maybe 30,000 troops?
See? They didn't even need to do that! They got the US to do it. They can honestly say that, apart from Tibet and a couple of other places, they do not get their trade by force of arms.

And of course the legal and Human Rights infrastructure as well. Getting them in may be easy but getting them out when they are in .............
They do not burden themselves with such things as well we know. America doesn't really either.

Of course, it does present another ethical problem, this being - why do we get the cake, and they eat it?
 
#7
I shall wait to hear from smartascarrots on this subject as I am genuinely fascinated.

Is it just me or do people have a genuine liking for the common sense and the long-term view the Chinese display?
 
#8
rickshaw-major said:
I shall wait to hear from smartascarrots on this subject as I am genuinely fascinated.

Is it just me or do people have a genuine liking for the common sense and the long-term view the Chinese display?
They cleave to a maxim that British politicians should revive. A country does not have permanent friends. Only permanent interests.
 
#9
rickshaw-major said:
I shall wait to hear from smartascarrots on this subject as I am genuinely fascinated.

Is it just me or do people have a genuine liking for the common sense and the long-term view the Chinese display?
Having been there - it is evident in their cities as well. Want to expand Shang Hai? Simples. Just throw the army and state owned construction at it until you have effectively doubled the size of the business district by filling in paddy fields, building tunnels and bridges, roads, infrastructure etc. in the space of 5 years. They have built about 10 square miles of city in 5 years!

Genius.
 
#10
Bazzinho1977 said:
rickshaw-major said:
I shall wait to hear from smartascarrots on this subject as I am genuinely fascinated.

Is it just me or do people have a genuine liking for the common sense and the long-term view the Chinese display?
Having been there - it is evident in their cities as well. Want to expand Shang Hai? Simples. Just throw the army and state owned construction at it until you have effectively doubled the size of the business district by filling in paddy fields, building tunnels and bridges, roads, infrastructure etc. in the space of 5 years. They have built about 10 square miles of city in 5 years!

Genius.
Or common sense? :D
 
#11
Love the ad at the bottom of this page, free bhurka for those who join up
 

Biped

LE
Book Reviewer
#12
rickshaw-major said:
I shall wait to hear from smartascarrots on this subject as I am genuinely fascinated.

Is it just me or do people have a genuine liking for the common sense and the long-term view the Chinese display?
I certainly do. They aren't too hot on human rights, but they will, in the long term, deliver the natiowide prosperity from which human comfort will stem, and when you're comfortable, you worry less about your rights. :wink:
 
#13
China's ability to plan twenty, or even thirty years ahead is exactly why they are able to out-play us on so many levels; they know exactly what they want and how to achieve it.

Just look at their expansion into Africa.
 
#14
rickshaw-major said:
I shall wait to hear from smartascarrots on this subject as I am genuinely fascinated.

Is it just me or do people have a genuine liking for the common sense and the long-term view the Chinese display?
A good read if you're interested in the hows and whys is Willy Lam's Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era: New Leaders, New Challenges. He does a pretty good deconstruction of the 4th Generation leadership and if you can get past his idee fixee that multi-party democracy right now! now! now! is the only way to get representative government in China then he puts some good stuff into the mix.

The key thing to remember about China is that very little of what their government does is aimed outward. If anyone poses the question 'What China does think of the rest of the world?' then it's trite but true to answer 'That it's a necessary evil, but not something they want to encourage'. State policies are all ultimately aimed at the Chinese people, for good or bad. They've gotten past the 'glorious' stage of getting rich and now they know full well that they have to spread the proceeds around a bit better. They are a far more collectively-minded society than we are right up to the very top and the ideal of the 'mustn't grumble' society where everyone gets by ok and rubs along well-enough goes back to the very beginnings of Chinese civilisation - the phrase 'xiaokang shehui' appears on bone-carvings from the Shang period some 3,500 years back. It's an extremely durable concept to them and an ideal most rulers turn back to when they want to extend their 'Mandate of Heaven'.

This is what underpins their foreign policy. Don't get drawn in by all this crap about Emperors thinking they ruled the entire world – they never thought that. They've only ever thought they ruled their entire world, the only bit that was important to them. 『All under heaven' is a spiritual reference, not a physical one and what other people do in their bit of the universe is irrelevant to them so long as it doesn't impact on China itself; that's why they can do business with people we won't/can't.

Personally, I have a sense of cautious respect for the current leadership. They've a way to go before they address the desires of the man on the Chongqing omnibus, but they are incredibly smart, well-educated, pragmatic and patriotic technocrats who individually have extensive track records of making things work and collectively bring hundreds of years of real-world experience to government. I wish to God we could say the same here.

Apologies for rambling, I'm on lunch and putting some relevant background up from memory. I'll try to stick something more coherent together tonight to address specific points already raised.
 
#15
OK, fed and watered now.

Kaplan's more a ME expert and I have to say it shows in certain key respects in his presentation of the Chinese perspective. For one thing, in an earlier article on the Urumqi riots I remember him asserting that the Chinese Empire only began asserting a presence in Xinjiang in the 18th Century, despite a) 2,000 years of archaeological evidence dating back to before the Wudi Emperor contradicting him and b) there not being a Chinese Empire after 1644. :roll:

He does raise a few good points, though:

China has its eyes on some of world's last untapped deposits of copper, iron, gold, uranium and precious gems, and is willing to take big risks in one of the most violent countries to secure them.
Too right. They have a problem with poor efficiency of production, particularly in power (generation and use) and raw materials (extraction and transport). They're tackling this in two ways: improving efficiency and expanding their available sources, which is where Afghanistan, Africa, Latin America, etc., as well as renewable energy, nuclear power and improved coal-based technology come in.

They also 'do' Sun Tzu big style and won't fight to get things right now when they can get them without firing a shot just by exerting a bit of patience. That to my mind demonstrates the biggest benefit of a benevolent despotry, namely that governments don't have to produce a big headline in time for the next election and can actually implement policies which hurt short-term but produce benefits long-term. I don't think we've been able to do that in UK since the Enclosures Act. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.

In Afghanistan, American and Chinese interests converge. By exploiting Afghanistan's metal and mineral reserves, China can provide thousands of Afghans with jobs, thus generating tax revenues to help stabilize a tottering Kabul government. Just as America has a vision of a modestly stable Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremists, China has a vision of Afghanistan as a secure conduit for roads and energy pipelines that will bring natural resources from the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. So if America defeats Al Qaeda and the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban, China's geopolitical position will be enhanced.
His grasp of the Chinese vision for Afghanistan is good, IMO – at least it accords with mine, so it must be! :D However, I'm not sure about whether they'll provide the jobs he's expecting. The experience in Iraq taught them some important lessons, though LINK - it doesn't matter if the locals are not that skilled, give them a job and they won't shoot your base up. They may just decide to absorb the added labour costs as a business overhead and crack on.

The endgame is pretty well-stated as well. I've said before that I think it very unlikely we'll see the PLA in Afghanistan anytime soon and I stick to that. They wouldn't get anything out of deploying troops that they're not already getting and all it'd serve to achieve would be to put the shits up their neighbours and trading partners in East and South East Asia to no purpose.

The problem is that while America is sacrificing its blood and treasure, the Chinese will reap the benefits. The whole direction of America's military and diplomatic effort is toward an exit strategy, whereas the Chinese hope to stay and profit.
Which serves to illustrate my earlier points about long-term planning and electoral cycles. It's a failure of American strategic vision and a success for Chinese. Western nations get the benefit of being able to bin leaders relatively quickly but at the expense of focussing their intention on keeping our short attention-spans satisfied.

But what if America decides to leave, or to drastically reduce its footprint to a counterterrorism strategy focused mainly on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Then another scenario might play out. Kandahar and other areas will most likely fall to the Taliban, creating a truly lawless realm that wrecks China's plans for an energy and commodities passageway through South Asia.
I suspect if the current residents of Kabul were ousted, Beijing would have struck a deal with the new ones before the bodies had stopped jerking on the lampposts. They'll no doubt be putting out feelers already to the more nationalist/patriotic and less looney-tunes-Islamist insurgents, sending the message that 'we can do business if you keep your nutjobs from coming our way'. If the Yanks can do business with a Taliban government then I can't see any reason the Chinese won't.

Were the Taliban to retake Afghanistan, India would face a radical Islamistan stretching from its border with Pakistan deep into Central Asia. With the Taliban triumphant on Pakistan's western border, jihadists there could direct their energies to the eastern border with India.
I think he's over-egging the pudding here. There's too much division and infighting in the Afghan insurgency for even it to present a totally unified front – what makes him think the majority of Pakistanis (who've overwhelmingly voted secular governments in when they've been given the chance), Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, etc., would find common cause all the way to the Russian border? His talk about a Pakistan/India war inevitably resulting from a Taliban victory in Afghanistan doesn't ring true to me but having said that I'm not an expert in the area, I'm just going by the impressions I get from Pakistani colleagues, visits I've made and what I've read.

The rest of the piece degenerates into a bit of a whinge about how other nations are taking advantage of the US failure to come up with a decent geopolitical strategy before striding into the morass. Boo fucking hoo.
 

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