Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

CHINA'S AFGHAN POLICY: THE FORMING OF THE "March WEST" STRATEGY?

Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

CHINA'S AFGHAN POLICY: THE FORMING OF THE "March WEST" STRATEGY?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Traditionally, Afghanistan has been a low diplomatic priority for China, and China did not have strong influence there. But recent years have found that as the U.S. is to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and China's interests in the country are rapidly growing, Beijing has adjusted its stance from cultivated disinterest to growing engagement. Indeed, from a broader perspective, Afghanistan is an ideal channel for China to implement its "March West" strategy ? to expand its economic and strategic influence to Central Asia, the Middle East and beyond.

Key words: China-Afghanistan, China-U.S., security concern, terrorism, economic influence

After the Obama administration took power in 2008, the U.S. adjusted its counter-terrorism policy in Afghanistan and South Asia. In 2009, the U.S. announced to withdrawal its troops from Afghanistan starting from 2011. In 2010, the "Kabul Process" was implemented, the Afghan government will gradually take over all security and management functions, leaving Afghanistan looking after its own security, and not being a haven for terror, without the involvement of foreign troops. However, as the NATO-led Western military forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, every one of the states involved in the region is nervous about what will happen there, after the U.S. leaves. They are worried about a civil war in Afghanistan, insurgents taking over the country, or terrorism spreading. It is in such a rapidly evolving geostrategic context that the major powers have been keen to change their Afghan policies and expand their influence in the region, and China is no exception.

One could argue that in history, Afghanistan had been invaded by many big powers and imperial rulers (Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, English, and Soviets), but China was not among them and had little influence on this country. As a consequence of negotiations between the United Kingdom and Imperial Russia in the late nineteenth century as part of the 'Great Game', China acquired a land border with Afghanistan in the form of the Wakhan corridor, a narrow strip of land on the northern edge of the Hindu Kush running between Tajikistan and Pakistan. But the border, located in a remote and inhospitable region with a sparse population, has been closed for the past 100 years and direct communication between Afghanistan and China has been non-existent during that period, as has Chinese interest in Afghanistan.1

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the then Kingdom of Afghanistan announced its recognition of the Chinese government in January 1950, and the two countries formally established diplomatic relations in January 1955. In the 1950s and 1960s, the two countries followed the peaceful coexistence of five basic principles and lived in harmony and equal treatment. During the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s, China took advantage of the situation to sell large quantities of arms including assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade-launchers and even Type 59 tanks to the Afghan mujahedeen via the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). But China never sought direct engagement with the Afghan mujahedeen, preferring always to work through either U.S. or Pakistani proxies.2 After the Soviet defeat and the subsequent withdrawal of Soviets and Americans in the late 1980s, Afghanistan during the period of civil war and under the Taliban was particularly shut out from Chinese consciousness.

The bilateral relations between China and Afghanistan recovered and developed greatly since the Afghan provisional government was formed at the end of 2001. Since then, China and Afghanistan have maintained normal high-level official contacts and friendly relations. President Karzai paid his first visit to China in January 2002; his first state visit to China was made in 2006, followed by his second state visit to China in 2010. However, China's involvement in the country was mainly focused on the economic sphere, especially in natural resources investment while making a limited contribution to security and politics in Afghanistan, not to say sending troops. …

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