Exclusive Analysis

Afghanistan Assessment

War/Political Risk: Once US/NATO withdraws, China's security assistance role is likely to increase to protect its expanding natural resource investments.

China's primary interests in Afghanistan are securing access to natural resources and undermining Uyghur (Muslim separatist) militant networks. China is not militarily engaged in current coalition operations in Afghanistan. It has been reported that there has recently been some discussion in Chinese policy circles about sending troops to Afghanistan; however, we assess that this is unlikely, given that China does not want to be seen as supporting the US military. For the next two years, China will likely be content to see the US/NATO intervention continue as long as its access to commercial opportunities does not diminish. However, once US/NATO begins to withdraw from Afghanistan, it will become increasingly likely that China will expand its security assistance presence (China is currently involved in training the Afghan National Police under the UN, primarily in counter-narcotics).

An increased security assistance role would largely be aimed at protecting China's expanding commercial investments in the country. China is Afghanistan's largest foreign direct investor. In 2007, China won the bid to invest some $3.5 billion in developing the Aynak copper mine in Logar, which is estimated to be the world's largest. China is currently bidding to invest in the Hajigak iron ore field, which has a deposit estimated at 1.8 billion metric tonnes. In the future, China is likely to seek involvement in developing Afghanistan's oil and gas resources. To support its natural resource projects, China is planning multiple investments in major infrastructure projects, including railway lines into Pakistan and Iran.

China is also likely to open cargo routes into Afghanistan via the Wakhan Corridor on the Afghan-China border to support its investments, once US/NATO have withdrawn. US/NATO forces have requested the use of the Wakhan Corridor to transport cargo into Afghanistan. China is unlikely to allow the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) use of the corridor, due to fears that this would trigger increased terrorist attacks by Uyghur or al-Qaeda affiliated militants in China, allow US military access to sensitive Chinese border areas and be unpopular with the Chinese public.

Should the Taliban return to power, commercial interests in Afghanistan make it likely that Beijing would still pursue commercial relations with the Afghan government. In this scenario, the Chinese would likely focus on using Chinese nationals to provide local security for their investment projects, rather than on broader security assistance to the Afghan state.




©Jules Stewart 2008