Home > Analysis, General, News, Opinion, politics > In the new frontier of terrorism and nation building, US fights, China trades. But some small disconnect of roles.

In the new frontier of terrorism and nation building, US fights, China trades. But some small disconnect of roles.

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While US fights a war of increasing desperation, mired by lack of local support and increasing corruptions, China is increasingly dominant in the markets of Afghanistan, and giving plenty of aid to government, building roads and hospitals.

Previously, (many hoped), India, being so close to Afghanistan and being a democracy, would be able to extend its influences into Afghanistan, but India has dropped the proverbial ball. Some roads were built, but were damaged by Taliban attacks. In the aftermath, Indian politicians became mired in internal disputes about whether India’s tiny investments in Afghanistan were worth it. (In other words, India became overly cautious, and the Indian projects in Afghanistan became largely symbolic.)

Undoubtedly, China was aggressive in strategy to dominate the new Afghan markets, and China has considerable interests in the Afghan natural resources. China also has the experience and scale advantage over many other nations. China has had decades of “Commando building projects” in war zones in Africa, that is, sending in quick strike teams of construction personnel with minimal security, and rapidly finishing up the projects and then get out of the war zones, along with minimal publicity. But China’s presence is gradually becoming visible and felt in Afghanistan, bubbling up from underneath.

Most of Afghanistan’s markets are filled with Chinese goods, which might not be the best quality, but the cheapest available for a poor country.

*What does China’s presence mean for the War on Terrorism and Afghanistan?

Western nations and corporations have little desire to invest in the insecure Afghanistan. The risk is simply too great. A company with US flags in Afghanistan would be a jackpot target for any trigger happy terrorist. So, China’s lack of fear of war zones for investment seems like the perfect alternative for hands on nation building. Letting China do the nation building in Afghanistan? US couldn’t ask for better cooperation. And China sees profits, short term and long term. If things get blown up, the Afghans will just spend US aid money to buy more Chinese goods. (it sounds like war profiteering, but we are talking about TV sets and cooking pots.)

However, would China’s non-violent nation building in Afghanistan help US and the new Afghan government succeed in the long run and stabilize the country?  That would seem to be in doubt, as even US military command is pessimistic.

What should China’s role be in Afghanistan?  What if US fails to stabilize Afghanistan, and is forced to pull out?

In such a case, Afghanistan might be given symbolic aid from the West annually, but slowly deteriorate over time, and under siege from a resurgent Taliban.  What should China do then?

*China is continuing along the traditional doctrine of non-interference, which in this case means that, if Afghanistan destabilizes, China might pull out some businesses, but it would seek new business with a resurgent Taliban.  China will not be beholden to any Western vision of Afghan’s future.

If Karzai’s government pleads for help from China, the answer would likely be one of China’s willingness to help in any negotiations, and even sale of weapons, but no Chinese troops.

Most Chinese probably would not doubt the wisdom of this traditional doctrine of non-interference.  But Afghanistan and other nations may be expecting more from China.

*However, there are possible problems with this scenario.  If the Western powers do indeed begin to decline, and start pulling troops out from all over the world, significant instability may prompt China to reconsider its “no-troops” on foreign soil policy.

Consider the instability of Kyrgyzstan in recent ethnic violence, and unwillingness of Russia and US to send troops.  This country is on the border of China, and its instability may entangle the entire region of former USSR republics.  China’s interests may extend beyond the mere economic in Kyrgyzstan.  Chinese security in Xinjiang depends partially on the stability of these Western border areas, and the cooperation of these governments to interdict terrorist groups.

*I think the larger long term question for China can be summed up as, if the West does decline and withdraws military from China’s backyard, how should China respond?  Should China take advantage and extend its own military control in the backyard?  (Or to some limit?)  How should China deal with any regional security concerns without US or Russian military presence?  What would be the long term Chinese military strategic posture?  The same or different from the old ones?

I do not believe that China can simply take the hands off approach and let neighboring nations become unstable, but I also believe that China cannot emulate US’s mistaken military interventionist policies.  There must be a satisfactory middle ground where China can help increase neighbors’ securities without making Chinese troops and civilians into terrorists’ #1 favorite targets.

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  1. July 12th, 2010 at 00:51 | #1

    You raised some good questions about how China should / ought to respond should the West leave an unstable Afghanistan.

    A recent article in the globaltimes (regarding Kyrgyzstan) raises similar questions.

    Here is an excerpt:

    After a lull since the unrest in April, violence erupted again in the streets of Kyrgyzstan in early June claiming hundreds of lives.

    Amid the fear and terror stalking the neighboring country, the Chinese embassy was swift in organizing chartered flights to bring back stranded Chinese businesspeople and students caught in the crossfire.
    China should try, through Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO), to help stabilize the situation and bring order to the strife-torn country.

    A regional power with a fair a degree of influence in the region, China cannot limit its role to just evacuating Chinese citizens and offering humanitarian assistance.

    China should guard against the ethnic conflict between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz spilling over into Chinese territory. A “Balkan” type of crisis would be a nightmare to China.

    Both Russia and the US are watching closely the unfolding turmoil.

    US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley has made it clear that Washington supports efforts coordinated by the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to facilitate peace and order.

    Both Russia and the US have military bases in Kyrgyzstan, and the number of their military deployment in the country is of more than symbolic significance.

    As a founding member of the SCO, which also includes Kyrgyzstan, four other Central Asian countries and Russia, China can extend the necessary help through this regional organization. Such help may include consulting SCO members, sending humanitarian assistance and taking measures to restore order and normality.

    Calling a meeting convened by foreign ministers of neighboring countries is not only an option but could be a first step to signal that China does not intend to sit back while the situation unravels in its neighborhood.

    A stable Central Asia is in China’s interest. Without any historical baggage of association and inability to influence the politics of nations in the region, China has been quite detached.
    But with economic cooperation gaining, whether China should stick to the policy (of remaining detached) and what would best ensure peace and stability in Central Asia are questions that need pondering.

    I’m sure China will prefer a coordinated approach to stabilizing Afghanistan, but Afghanistan will be more tricky – if only because of the geopolitics involved (India, Pakistan, Iran, U.S., Russia would also have interests).

  2. July 22nd, 2010 at 08:41 | #2

    Allen,

    I believe that historically, China has been reluctant to venture into foreign interventions, precisely because the difficulties in coordinating with other foreign powers’ interests. (fear to step onto other people’s toes, and fear to get trapped by costly missions.)

    Duke Wellington of Great Britain, the victor of Waterloo, was once asked, what is the most difficult thing for a general to do. He answered: “Know when to retreat, and dare to do it.”

    But Wellington was also a very famous Defensive general, always prefer to wait for an enemy to attack and expose his own weaknesses, before launching a counter-attack.

    Wellington should have added, “Know when NOT to advance, and dare to hold back.”

    Sun Tzu would have appreciated such sentiments, as Sun Tzu said, a good fighter secures his victory, before he attacks.

    * Thus, in terms of China’s strategy for its neighboring states, and the future of world security, China should heed a balanced approach of cost vs. benefits, long term and short term, keeping in mind that security cannot be guaranteed by long term use of military outside of China.

    Above all, China should keep in mind that it is difficult to predict the political evolutions of any nation. Prudence commands that China avoids entanglements into foreign political conflicts.

  3. July 22nd, 2010 at 11:04 | #3

    r v:

    … security cannot be guaranteed by long term use of military …

    Professor Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University quoted George Kennan saying effectively this same thing. Of course we know Kenna was famous for his Strategy of Containment – the blueprint for the U.S. strategy against the former USSR.

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