China Should Develop its Role in Afghanistan

Posted: June 12, 2012 in Oriental Morning Post
Tags: , , , , ,

Another new article pegged to the recent events in Beijing, this time focused on the China-Afghanistan relationship for a Chinese paper that I sometimes write for, 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post). I try to offer some tangible ideas for what China could do. I should point out that this was written prior to the events last week, so some of the ideas that I mention seem to have been part of the subsequent agreements. Not sure I can take credit, but hopefully these things will feed the general conversation in China subsequent to last week’s announcements. I have pasted the full english text below the Chinese, and would point out that the last paragraph in English didn’t make the Chinese version. I have also saved readers here of seeing the picture of me that they included in the Chinese version, to see that go to the link in the title to the article.

中国如何在阿富汗更有作为
作者 潘睿凡   发表于2012-06-12 03:05

上合组织北京峰会上周决定以观察员国的身份接纳阿富汗。
潘睿凡
上海社科院访问学者

  上合组织北京峰会上周决定以观察员国的身份接纳阿富汗,中国与该国总理卡尔扎伊在单独双边会谈中签署了战略协议,透露出中国愿意在邻国的未来中发挥更大的作用。不过,中国眼下在阿富汗并非主要玩家,这一点在我不久前遍访喀布尔,不断询问中国在阿富汗的利益及其影响力时,屡次得以显现。目前阿富汗人主要的注意力都集中在美国2014年从阿富汗的撤军,及其对于该国未来的意义。

实际上,在阿富汗很难见到中国存在的证据。当2008年阿富汗安全局势恶化以后,很多曾经充斥当地市场以及开餐馆的中国商人关门回国了。留下来的中国人如同其他当地的外国人一样保持低调,躲在高墙以及安全人员的保卫之下。但是在战略层面上,中国却十分显眼,刚赢得了艾娜克(位于喀布尔东南)铜矿的开采合同,以及在阿姆河(阿富汗北部)一处气田的开发权。

从这些大合同中,我们可以看见中国如何能够在这个国家扮演更大和更积极角色。

艾娜克铜矿位于贫穷的洛加尔省,铜矿的开采及其他相关基础设施项目建设(如铁路、公路、发电厂、煤矿坑以及学校等)将创造更多的就业和商业机会,惠及该地区。

在阿姆河天然气田项目上,由于中石油同意以十分优惠的条件与阿富汗政府一道开发,当地的分析人士认为这折射出中石油对该地区未来石油项目开发的兴趣。这被视为中国在阿富汗的长期利益。在政治层面上,将阿富汗提升至上合组织内部“观察员国”身份的决定也显示出中国推动的区域组织正在对阿富汗的未来做出积极的承诺。

不过,在和阿富汗官员、政客以及当地人交流时,他们理解的却不是这个道理。相反,他们指出了中国将大量的援助与投资投向了巴基斯坦,而非他们,并且相信中国更青睐巴基斯坦,而非阿富汗。此外,对于阿富汗开通瓦罕走廊的长期请求,因为对该项目所进行的无止境的可行性研究而被忽略,这被视为是中国的一大策略。更为明显的是,在新疆的答普塔尔(音译,Daptar,中阿边境最后一座中国的小镇),喀喇昆仑山高速路穿过这座小城,通过Kunjerab哨口连接巴基斯坦,而通往阿富汗的道路却依然是尘土飞扬。阿富汗人觉得自己错过了与中国这个经济巨人进行贸易而潜藏的巨大利益,还觉得这是被故意切断的。

在许多方面,中国的观点是容易理解的。阿富汗目前面临安全问题,开放边境可能将其问题直接引入中国。但是,问题在于,除了上文提到的几个大项目之外,似乎再没什么证据显示中国在如何对待阿富汗及如何着手应对2014年美军撤出后的局面问题上存在更长远的大战略。

喀布尔的民众不断追问中国对于阿富汗的策略是什么,大多数人的结论是,没有人在这个问题上有着清晰的思考。

这是一个问题,因为阿富汗的局势会对中亚和南亚产生直接影响。从与阿富汗接壤的杜尚别(塔吉克斯坦首都)及塔什干(乌兹别克斯坦首都)的官员和专家们的谈话中,可以感受到他们对2014年的不确定性极为担忧。而塔吉克斯坦与乌兹别克斯坦的不稳定与不确定性又会波及整个中亚地区,进而波及中国新疆,影响中国在中亚地区的投资。往南看,如果阿富汗变成一个乱摊子,巴基斯坦也会遭殃,中国在巴利益也将进一步受到直接影响,中国已经承接的通过巴基斯坦直达波斯湾海域的大型项目也难以独善其身。

喀布尔内部的期望值并不高。他们并不是期望中国会派遣军队保卫其安全,或是中国会突然到来,取代美国成为主导玩家。相反,他们期望中国可以阐释一个更为清晰的阿富汗战略:努力通过大量战略性经济投资推动当地的稳定和安全。眼下的这些投资在当地被视为有“寄生性”,而哪些努力可以实现稳定仍模糊不清。

这是世界上的一个长久以来充斥着不安全的“大锅炉”,与中国相邻,中国在那里也有着显而易见的战略利益。将阿富汗正式纳入上合组织可以看作一个良好的开始,而中阿战略协议的达成进一步释放出中国愿意参与邻国未来建设的信号。不过,现在是中国明确自己的阿富汗战略,并做出对于该国安全、繁荣与稳定的未来更加明显承诺的时候了。

这一战略可以通过一系列方式得以实现:首先,中国政府可以帮助解决中冶集团(MCC)眼下在当地遇到的麻烦,并让项目进行起来。这将意味着帮助阿富汗政府解决一些官僚问题,而北京方面的集中关注可能有助于这一进程的加速。第二,中国可以更多聚焦于将阿富汗的基础设施(能源线、管道、公路和铁路)与地区网络连接起来——这将有助于阿富汗融入地区发展之中。第三,中-巴-阿三边会谈应该扩展至将除了外交官之外的更多行为体纳入其中,包括国有企业和经济部门。这将有助于把相关行为体聚集到一块儿,共同讨论发展,促进更大的地区融合。第四,中国应该引导上合组织朝着更加积极应对毒品问题的方向迈进。眼下,该组织谈得多,而做得少。在边境监控上加大力度,为阿富汗农民提供除了种植毒品作物之外的其他选择,都是中国引导下的上合组织可以聚焦的项目,这些都将有助于阿富汗逐步摆脱对毒品种植的依赖。(张娟 译)

录入编辑:李琪

China Should Develop its role in Afghanistan

This week’s decision by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to make Afghanistan an observer member and President Karzai’s separate bilateral meeting to sign a strategic agreement with China are signals that China is eager to play a greater role in Afghanistan’s future. However, while these high level actions are positive demonstrations of intent by Beijing, China needs to be sure to follow through if it is to be seen to be playing a greater role in stabilizing its neighbour after the American withdrawal in 2014. Currently, China is not a major player in Afghanistan. A fact that was repeatedly made clear as I went around Kabul asking about China’s interests and influence in the country. Afghans would clearly like to see China play a role, but from what they can see at the moment, China is instead focused on taking Afghanistan’s natural resources while others guarantee security and work to stabilize the country.

There is very little visible evidence of Chinese presence in the country. Many Chinese traders who used to populate the markets or run restaurants closed down and returned home in 2008 as the security situation deteriorated. Those that are left keep a low profile, like most foreigners in the country, reduced to hiding behind high walls and security teams. But at a strategic economic level, China is very visible, winning large contracts to mine for copper in Aynak (southeast of Kabul) and a contract to open a gas field in Amu Darya (in the north of the country).

And in these large contracts we can see how China could play a bigger and more positive role in the country. Aynak sits in Logar province, an underdeveloped region that would benefit from the jobs and opportunity the copper mine and other infrastructure (trains, roads, a power station, coal mine and local schools) that come with the project would bring. And analysts spoken to on the ground believe that the very favorable terms that CNPC agreed to develop the gas field with the Afghan government in Amu Darya are a sign of CNPC’s desire for future oil projects in the region. This is interpreted as a long-term interest in Afghanistan. And at a political level, this week’s announcements in Beijing at the SCO Summit are a sign that the regional body is paying attention to Afghanistan, while the signing of an agreement between Afghanistan and China are a show of the bilateral relationship.

But when talking to officials, politicians and locals in Afghanistan this sense is not what is being understood. Instead people point to the large amounts of aid and investment that China puts into Pakistan rather than them and believe that China prefers Pakistan over Afghanistan. Furthermore, the long-standing requests for the Wakhan Corridor to be opened have been answered with a lengthy feasibility study into whether the project can be done. This is seen as a Chinese strategy of simply sealing off Afghanistan from China and letting it resolve its security problems by itself. Something even more visible on the ground in Daptar in Xinjiang (the last border town before Afghanistan in China), where the Karakoram Highway sweeps magnificently through the village and on to the Kunjerab Pass with Pakistan while the road to Afghanistan remains a closed dusty track. Afghanistan feels it is missing out on the potential trade benefits with the Chinese economic giant and feels like it is being purposely cut off.

And in many ways this Chinese perspective is easy to understand. Afghanistan is currently a security problem and opening the border might let trouble flow directly into China. But the problem is that aside from the big projects mentioned earlier, there is little evidence of a larger Chinese strategy of what to do with Afghanistan and what to be preparing for after 2014 and the American withdrawal. In Kabul people kept asking what the Chinese strategy was for Afghanistan, with most concluding that there was no clear thinking going into this subject.

This is a problem, as what happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on Central and South Asia. Talking to officials and local experts in Dushanbe and Tashkent, who sit on the border with Afghanistan, there is a high level of concern about what 2014 means. And instability and uncertainty in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is something that will impact the entire Central Asian region and therefore Xinjiang, as well as Chinese investments in throughout region. Looking south: Pakistan will also suffer if Afghanistan falls into chaos, something that will further have direct impact on Chinese interests in the country, but also the great projects that China has undertaken to connect itself to the warm waters of the Gulf through Pakistan.

Expectations in Kabul are not very high. The hope is not that China will deploy forces to guarantee security or that China will suddenly come and replace America as the main player in the nation. Instead, the hope is that China will instead enunciate a clearer strategy towards the nation that ties in efforts to improve stability and security with large strategic economic investments. Currently on the ground the investments are seen as holding pieces of territory without investing in them, while what efforts towards stability are either invisible or considered irrelevant. And at a political level, while the brokering of a China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral was an interesting and positive development, it is unclear that it has changed much on the ground.

All of this in a region of the world that has long been a cauldron of insecurity and which is adjacent to China and in which China has quite obvious strategic interests. The decision to bring Afghanistan further into the SCO framework is a good start and the strategic agreement a further signal of China’s willingness to participate in the country’s future, but the time has come for China to clearly enunciate its strategy towards Afghanistan and to make a more visible commitment towards the country’s secure, prosperous and stable future.

This could come in a number of different ways: first, China could help companies like MCC resolve their current difficulties on the ground and get projects going. This would require helping the Afghan government resolve some bureaucratic issues, but focused attention from Beijing might help speed this process up. Secondly, China could focus more attention on getting Afghanistan’s infrastructure (energy lines, pipelines, roads, trains) connected to regional networks – this will help bind the country into its region and help development. Thirdly, the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral format should be expanded to bring more actors to the table beyond diplomats, like state owned companies and economic ministries. This will help bring relevant actors to the table to discuss development together and help foster greater regional integration. And fourthly, China should help steer the SCO in the direction of more active counter-narcotics work. Currently, the organization talks about the problem a lot without doing much visibly. Encouraging greater border surveillance, stopping the flows of precursor drugs into the country and offering farmers alternatives to growing drug crops are all projects that the SCO could focus on with Chinese leadership and would help Afghanistan move beyond reliance on this crop.

But the most significant move that China could make is to ensure that it makes further visible progress in its relationship on the ground with Afghanistan before the American withdrawal in 2014. It is understandable that China wants to wait to see what the environment looks like post-2014; but at the same time, whatever the scenario post-2014, Afghanistan will still be next door to China. So waiting is somewhat unnecessary and is only going to delay development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s future is clearly going to be both important and to some degree tied to China’s. China is in a position to play a very positive role in fostering a peaceful future for the nation, starting work on it now is something that will only reap dividends.

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