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New Chinese Grand Strategy To Help Afghanistan


Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and China's President Xi Jinping (R) wave to students during a welcoming ceremony outside in Beijing, October 2014.

Successive Afghan leaders have dreamed of turning their country into a "land bridge" or a "roundabout" of regional trade and cooperation.

Instead, their country -- metaphorically called "the heart of Asia" for its location at the center of Asia's landmass -- has attracted terrorists and covert wars clouding the country's future and raising questions over its very survival as a nation state.

A series of Chinese-financed infrastructure, energy, and transport projects has now raised hopes that the investments will help in establishing lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The ambitious projects spanning oceans and continents are collectively called "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR). And they are being billed as creating an opportunity to transform the economic and political and economic landscape across Asia.

While none of the major OBOR investments is planned for Afghanistan, a new study by a New York-based think tank says its effect on Afghanistan will be transformative.

"The OBOR initiative has the potential to integrate Afghanistan into the regional economy in ways the U.S. has sought to do for years," observed the report, called The New Silk Roads: China, the U.S. and the Future of Central Asia.

Thomas Zimmerman, a researcher at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, spent six month at Shanghai's Academy of Social Sciences this year to explain China's grand strategy for turning its restive Western Xinjiang region into a hub of regional trade and transport by investing hundreds of billions of dollars in more than 20 countries spread across Eurasia from Indonesia to Denmark.

"China has an interest in building stronger relations with its neighbors. The scale of investment Beijing is currently discussing could have an immensely positive impact in a number of underdeveloped economies," Zimmerman wrote. "This is particularly true in Afghanistan."

China's One Belt, One Road investments on a map.
China's One Belt, One Road investments on a map.

In recent years, Beijing has clearly moved to play a bigger role in Afghanistan by backing its investments and economic aid with support for the Afghan peace process and even extending security cooperation to Kabul.

"Chinese experts also emphasize that while there is concern over the current security situation, China remains interested in Afghanistan as a longer-term investment opportunity," Zimmerman wrote.

A key demonstration of this willingness is China's move toward crafting an Afghanistan policy independent of its long-term alliance with Pakistan.

In recent years, Beijing has hosted talks between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives and has encouraged Islamabad to adopt a more positive approach toward Afghanistan by pushing the hard-line Taliban leaders hiding inside Pakistan to join negotiations with Kabul.

"Beijing is implicitly tying its promise of investments to the expectation that Pakistan will play a constructive role in promoting political reconciliation and stability in Afghanistan," the study observed.

After signing $46 billion commitments as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in April, visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Islamabad to gear toward a more positive role in Afghanistan.

"China will work with Pakistan to advance the reconciliation process and smooth transition in Afghanistan and work together to build a new type of international relations of win-win cooperation," Xi told Pakistani lawmakers.

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