US, China and the Afghan Agreement on Oil and Gas Extraction

The international media widely reported on Thursday 5th January 2023, the signing of a deal between the Taliban government of Afghanistan and the Chinese company, Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co (CAPEIC), for joint oil and gas exploration in the Amu Darya basin in northern Afghanistan.

The news was reported in a manner designed to raise concerns of the European countries and Afghanistan’s neighbours on the repercussions of Chinese expansion and its fallouts in Central and South Asia, especially on India which has made several attempts with the Taliban government to invest in Afghanistan.

Several media outlets opted to report the reality of the agreement in a terrifying manner, pointing to American geological reports stating that the primary resources in Afghanistan contain a huge wealth of gold, precious stones, coal, oil, gas, lithium and a number of rare earth minerals worth more than a trillion dollars, and that the Taliban were set to give China virtually total control over the mining of lithium, which is vital for the production of alternative energy storage batteries to which Europe is seeking to switch to nullify Russian blackmail and compensate for its energy needs, only to find itself in another energy security issue should China dominate the lithium metal reserves, as propagated by US reports and the media.

It is also noted that the statistics related to the Taliban’s agreement with China, such as the amount of oil expected to be extracted, about 87 million barrels in an area of 4,500 kilometres in the Amu Darya basin, as well as the 3000 jobs created by the project which will be filled by Afghan youth, serve as a domestic political discourse within the framework of the Taliban government’s efforts to address the unemployment problem by providing new job opportunities for the masses.

This is supported by the statement of the Afghan government spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, on his Twitter account, saying that the Afghan government has a 20% stake in the project which could rise to 75% in the future.

In light of this, and in order to uncover the reality of the Taliban’s role in regional and international relations, it is imperative to read the event within the framework of the US agreement with the Taliban signed in Qatar, to which US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan referred, warning that any breach by the Taliban would expose it to sanctions, and had resulted in the sudden withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan which confused the European Union, aroused its fears and the fear of China and Russia.

It is clear from a host of indications that the Taliban have abandoned their previous approach and sought to integrate into the so-called international community, and from the statements of their officials who called for a “normal” relationship with the United States, and even welcomed the arrival of American companies to invest in their country. Moreover, America’s silence over the Taliban’s move to return to ” the international community”, according to international standards, its silence over expanding its relations and receiving its leaders through its agents in the Emirates, and its silence over the agreements concluded by the Taliban with China and Russia, all of this indicates that America is deliberately harnessing the Taliban as a hotbed of tension in the region, especially for India as the Taliban is normalising relations with China at its expense, in the face of China’s expansion which the United States portrays as a threat and a challenge to Western interests and values to prevent European politicians and peoples from thinking about independence from America, and to justify the expansion of NATO missions beyond Europe. Also, China’s expansion into areas of American influence would subject its interests to American decisions and would generate competition between China and the European Union and Russia. This American manoeuvre includes allowing China to expand in Africa, although its investments and loans, and the countries’ need for Chinese supply chains have ignited the desire of many rulers to expand their relations with China amid the volatility of American policy due to the divisions within America’s deep state, as seen from America’s standpoint on stopping the war in Ukraine with the pressure from the military-industrial complex on the Biden administration to prolong the war.

Afghanistan has been and still is a place of competition for major powers because of its geopolitical and economic position, and despite the US blockade on Afghanistan, the United States remained silent over the Taliban’s building of relations with China and Russia to project them as outlaw countries that disrespected “universal” values. China is nonetheless taking advantage of the Taliban’s isolation, and at the same time, it does not recognize the Taliban movement as the official government of the country, according to the official website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry which describes the Taliban as an “interim government”, merely to achieve its interests, through non-governmental Chinese companies. This is because China is aware of the geopolitical importance of Afghanistan as a country that is a key to many countries including Pakistan, India, Iran and the Central Asian countries, and a link to the map of energy production and consumption. It links the Caspian Sea, Iran and India, in addition to its logistical importance to the Belt and Road initiative over which China concluded an agreement with Russia to link Central Asia with its south and west. Also, the Chinese expansion into Afghanistan is a threat to the interests of India, which has always wanted to build economic and political ties with Afghanistan, but it collided with the demands of the Pakistani mediation.

Finally, the Chinese agreement with Afghanistan comes at a time when President Xi’s government is seeking to reset relations with Europe and acquire a trump card to exert pressure on Europe and drive a wedge in the alliance that America established against his country. The Europeans fear that China does not have any ethical or value standards, and this impedes President Xi’s efforts to build his relations with the Europeans. In addition, China is acting on the grounds of its national security and its fears of having its security and interests targeted by Islamic movements such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, which was sheltered by the Taliban during their control of the country before the US invasion, and the expansion of ISIS operations through the Khorasan Organisation.

Copyright© LCIR 2023

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