The United States may have formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan but there appears to be a new player in a region that has been occupied by outside powers for the better part of four decades.
Evidence is surfacing that the Chinese military may be conducting joint anti-terror patrols with their Afghan counterparts. The Pentagon confirmed they are aware of Beijing’s presence but Afghanistan and China deny any such activity.
Shawn Snow, who’s been reporting on this issue for the Military Times, says China’s activity in this region could be explained by the country’s economic and security interests.
“On the security side, China shares a small 50 mile border in what is know as the Pamir Plateau in the Wakhan Corridor in northern Afghanistan and that area has Uyghur militants,” Snow says. “These groups have been designated as terror groups by the United States, the European Union, and by Chinese officials, so China is predominantly worried about its border security.”
In addition to ramping up troops in the region to secure its borders, China may want take advantage of the region’s access to Central Asian markets.
“On top of that, China is also interested economically in what’s going on in Afghanistan as it tries to build its ‘one belt one road’ economic initiative, using Afghanistan to reconnect the old silk road trade routes,,” Snow says.
Though Snow says he believes China wants to have a larger role in Afghanistan, he doesn’t think this interest will manifest in a larger Chinese troop presence.
“I think that’s a foreign policy difference between the United States and China,” Snow says. “China’s goals are largely economic in nature…but I don’t think China in the long run is interested in nation building activities,” Snow says.
Though U.S. officials won’t speak on this topic, Snow says he thinks they’re somewhat open to Chinese involvement in Afghanistan.
“The United States sees that China’s involvement in Afghanistan is largely positive in that China is actually helping the Kabul-based government.”
Likely, the U.S. will not interfere in the relationship between China and Afghanistan, Snow says.
“I think likely the U.S. government leaves that decision to the Afghan government to do as they see fit in their international affairs.”
Written by Morgan O’Hanlon.