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China offered Taliban ‘sizeable investments’ as Xi looks to cement Afghanistan influence

Afghanistan: UK 'faces trouble from Russia and China' says MP

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Two powerful bomb attacks struck the area around Kabul’s airport on Thursday evening as people continued to attempt to leave the country. At least 90 people have been killed and 150 others wounded, according to various reports. It came hours after Western governments warned their citizens to stay clear of the airport because of an imminent threat of an attack by ISIS-K, the Afghanistan branch of ISIS.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK will continue its evacuation despite the “despicable” attack, and will work “flat out” until “the last moment”.

Just hours remain of the evacuation process.

Much remains to be said of what Afghanistan’s situation will be like after all Western presence is disappears, with Russia, China and Pakistan expected to fill the void left.

In recent years, China has moved to grow into what it sees as its natural international self, entering talks with the Taliban months after former President Donald Trump announced the US’ withdrawal last year.

Xi Jinping is said to have keen economic interests in Afghanistan, and also worries over safety given that the countries share a border.

Last year, tribal leaders from Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan who have close links to the Taliban claimed that China had extended an olive branch to the group.

They told the Financial Times that diplomats from Beijing offered “sizeable investments in energy and infrastructure projects”.

These offers, they said, came during the talks Beijing hosted with the Taliban.

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One leader said: “Chinese officials have told the Taliban to bring peace [to Afghanistan] and China will invest in roads to begin with.

“In future, China also wants to look at energy projects like generating electricity and then transporting oil and gas from central Asia [through Afghanistan].”

Another leader, who had returned from Afghanistan in late August after spending a month there, said China had pledged to build motorways that would link Afghanistan’s main cities.

He said: “The Chinese promise is led by a road network across Afghanistan.

“Once such a network is built with six-lane highways, the Chinese have said local commerce and trade will flourish.”

Afghanistan is believed to be sitting on deposits of a range of minerals and rare earths – all vital to the boom in high-tech chips and large capacity batteries – estimated to be worth $1trillion (£728m)or more, including what may be the world’s largest lithium reserves.

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China is more than aware of this.

Zhou Bo, a former senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020, recently wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times: “Afghanistan in turn has what China most prizes: opportunities in infrastructure and industry building – areas in which China’s capabilities are arguably unmatched – and access to $1 trillion (£728m) in untapped mineral deposits.”

Many fear the consequences of China’s trajectory, however.

China’s propaganda agencies have pounced on the US’ botched withdrawal, saying it proves the country is no longer the leading power it once was.

However, analysts have noted that Beijing is taking a cautious process, seeing what involvement in Afghanistan has done to the likes of the US and Russia.

Chinese state media calls Afghanistan a “graveyard of empires” and Beijing does not want to be mired in “the Great Game” in the centre of the Eurasian continent.

The country’s state-owned newspaper, Global Times, last week quoted a senior Chinese government expert as having said: “What China could do is participate in the postwar reconstruction and provide investment to help the country’s future development.”

It has made clear what it requires in working with the Taliban, with Hua Chunying, China’s spokesperson, saying the country welcomed the group’s promise “that they will allow no force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China and its expression of hope that China will be more involved in Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process and play a bigger role in future reconstruction and economic development”.

China’s Uighur Muslims now also fear increased cooperation between the Taliban and Beijing.

Many of Afghanistan’s Uighurs – thought to number about 2,000 – are second generation immigrants whose parents fled China many decades ago, long before the current crackdown began.

But their Afghan ID cards still say “Uighur” or “Chinese refugee”, and, according to the BBC, they fear that if China enters the vacuum left by the US, they could be targeted.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political chief of Afghanistan’s Taliban

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