China is positioning itself to tap Afghanistan's vast mineral resources as U.S.-led forces prepare to withdraw, Dennis Gray of The Associated Press reports.
U.S. and Afghan geological surveys have found unexploited mineral deposits between $1 trillion and $3 trillion across Afghanistan's rugged terrain. Chinese companies have already secured multiple multibillion dollar investment projects and have begun making moves to ensure the sites are safe enough.
"If you are able to see a more or less stable situation in Afghanistan ... China will be the natural beneficiary," Andrew Small, a China expert in the U.S., told AP. "China is the only actor who can foot the level of investment needed in Afghanistan to make it succeed and stick it out."
In September China's top security official visited Kabul — marking the first visit by a leading Chinese government figure in 46 years — and announced that China would train 300 Afghan police officers.
An October report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) stated that the Afghan government is currently headed toward corrupt elections and a subsequent collapse after NATO troops pull out in 2014.
Consequently, it makes sense that even the U.S. is encouraging Beijing to boost its investment Afghanistan and backs its participation in peace-seeking initiatives.
Last summer Beijing signed a strategic partnership with Afghanistan and has expressed willingness to leverage its close ties with Pakistan to help negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban.
"They are rare among the actors in Afghanistan in that they are not seen as having been too close to any side of the conflict," Small said. "All sides are happy to see China's expanded role."
The payoff for China could be enormous, despite having provided little aid and no blood over the last decade.
In December 2011 China became the first foreign country in decades to sign a oil exploration deal in Afghanistan when it inked a $7 billion pact.
Gray notes that Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry announced p reliminary talks to construct a direct road link to China across the remote 47-mile border between the two countries.
The Chinese are also eyeing untapped lithium deposits as well as projects involving hydropower, agriculture and construction.
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