China’s involvement in Afghanistan of long-term significance

Courtesy Global Times- 

Afghanistan is one of a few Asian countries where civil wars have continued beyond the end of World War II, and through the 38 years since the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979. At present, Afghanistan faces a severe security situation and there is no end in sight to the civil war and the International Security Assistance Force appears unable to prevent the further deterioration of the security situation.

In response to this, US President Donald Trump announced in August that the US would add more troops on the ground in Afghanistan and intensify the crackdown on insurgents in the country, and especially increasingly active terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

The Chinese government has generally looked favorably toward Washington’s latest decision, but disagrees over the Trump administration’s tough stance on Pakistan. China believes that Pakistan has put a great deal of effort into the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, and without Pakistan’s efforts, the border conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan in May would not have been resolved so quickly.

After Trump announced his new Afghanistan strategy, the international community has held high hopes for China to play a more important role in tackling the Afghanistan issue. In this regard, opinions differ widely within China. While many conservatives hold that China needs to avoid direct involvement in Afghanistan, the reality remains that China has been involved in the Afghanistan issue at both bilateral and multilateral levels.

In addition to this, China has also been taking proactive diplomatic steps such as proposing the establishment of the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism by Afghanistan-China-Pakistan-Tajikistan Armed Forces (QCCM) and the Afghanistan-Pakistan-US-China Quadrilateral Coordination Group.

In June, at an international conference entitled Kabul Process: Peace and Security Cooperation, the Chinese side pointed out that China was willing to, together with regional countries and the international community, jointly address the threat of terrorism in a bid to safeguard regional security.

China outlined its support for an inclusive peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan under the principle of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned initiative, and asked all concerned parties to make constructive efforts to promote the realization of peace and stability in the country as soon as possible.

In August, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call that China was committed to facilitating Afghanistan’s reconciliation process, and was ready to maintain communication with the US on the Afghan issue.

For China on the issue of Afghanistan, it is not about positive involvement or keeping a safe distance, but rather setting the terms of the width and depth of China’s involvement. While China hasn’t said for sure whether it would consider military involvement in Afghanistan, it has certainly not ruled out the possibility.

It is without doubt that being part of the solution to the Afghan issue matters a great deal to China.

First, this helps China safeguard the security, stability and development of its western border, and take the initiative in this respect. Second, by doing so China will build its image as a responsible country on the international arena and enhance its influence in security affairs in Central and South Asia. And third, this will allow China to promote cooperation and strengthen relations with other major powers.

Despite the importance of China’s military involvement on the Afghanistan issue, China is unlikely to send troops to the country in a short term, and may choose to have limited participation in the long run in accordance with its national security interests.

In the short term, China’s military forces will choose the path of cooperative intervention to participate in the settlement of the Afghanistan issue, and in this respect the QCCM mechanism is the most direct platform.

Although the mechanism is still being developed, there is plenty of scope for China’s military to enhance its capabilities, and it must be viewed as an important symbol that Chinese military forces are becoming more involved in the Afghanistan issue.

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