SINCE 2014, China has been increasingly devoting itself to resolving and reducing conflicts in Afghanistan. Therefore, it has become a significant external driving force affecting the Afghan peace process.
The reason China is participating more actively in the issue, is not only because it is trying to maintain stability in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and protect Chinese investment in Afghanistan, but also to improve the region’s stability and promote regional economic integration by implementing the Silk Road economic belt initiative. It shows China’s determination to play as a responsible power.
Meanwhile, if countries in the region don’t work together to advance the Afghan peace process after US military withdrawal, it is highly likely that the country will fall into chaos again that threatens the whole region.
China has some advantages over the US in mediating Afghanistan’s conflicts. For starters, China is closer to the country geographically. Second, China doesn’t pursue any special interests in Afghanistan. Third, China has good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbors, especially Pakistan. Moreover, China maintains connections with various political forces in Afghanistan. According to media reports, Beijing is currently mediating stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
China has been working on Afghan conflict mediation and reconciliation issues through bilateral relations, such as the Sino-Afghan and Sino-Pakistani relationships, trilateral ties such as China-Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, and multilateral mechanisms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Istanbul Process. Beijing has also adopted an economic solution by promoting bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation to boost development while eliminating the breeding grounds for terrorism.
China’s aim is to play a constructive role in a peace process which is “guided and owned by the people of Afghanistan.” China hopes Afghanistan can find an optimal solution of national reconciliation and power distribution, to establish a framework that can accommodate moderate Taliban forces. Therefore, promoting negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban is essential. The best outcome is Afghanistan turning into a permanently neutral state, not a battlefield.
However, there are some obstacles that China faces. To begin with, Washington has its own concerns while promoting the peace process of Afghanistan and cooperation among Central Asian and South Asian states, which are its own geopolitical strategy – weaning Central Asia off reliance on Moscow, restraining Iran’s influence in the region, and preventing China from strengthening its presence there. Besides, the US adopts a double standard in dealing with terrorism, which impacts China’s enthusiasm in helping address the Afghan issue.
The confrontation between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan has made things worse. India and Pakistan are the two major external political forces in the Afghan conflict, and the India-Pakistan border conflict has become a huge obstacle for the Afghan peace process.
India has a strong sense of its sphere of influence, and it considers itself the dominant power in the region. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to turn his country into a major power, especially in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. New Delhi is worried that the influence of China may be enhanced through its participation in the Afghan peace process.
In addition, another problem is the fact that the US and the Taliban cannot accommodate each other. The US strongly rejects the Taliban, and so does India. This is the reason why the more Washington and New Delhi are involved in the Afghan conflict, the more chaos they cause. Such confrontations have led to the long-stalled peace process.
As a matter of fact, the US should improve its relations with Pakistan, accept the moderate forces of the Taliban, and persuade India to do the same. Under such circumstances, strategic understanding and cooperation between China and the US is important for the solution of the conflict in Afghanistan. Both Washington and Beijing should coordinate their efforts in mediating the issue.
Therefore, the Afghan peace process will prove to be a testing ground for China and the US in establishing the new type of major power relations.
[The author is an assistant research fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and a visiting fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. [email protected]]