China’s shifting Afghan approach reflects wider regional realities

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-26 20:03:01

As Afghanistan's biggest neighbor, China is committed to helping the country rebuild peace and stability. As of 2015, China has offered 2.52 billion yuan ($388.2 million) in aid, provided assistance in a series of livelihood projects such as the water conservancy project in Parwan Province and the Jamhuriat Hospital, and helped train more than 1,000 professionals in many fields through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. In 2014 when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited China, the Chinese government pledged to offer 1.5 billion yuan of aid from 2015 to 2017, and provide 3,000 professional training opportunities in the next five years.

Besides bilateral mechanisms, the Sino-Afghan relationship also plays out on multilateral platforms. In order to boost cooperation on the multilateral level and coordinate China's Afghanistan policy with that of the international community, China has established a coordinating agency, including a special envoy for Afghanistan in 2014.

Besides, China has been actively engaged in global collaboration to address Afghan issue, playing a proactive role in promoting the Istanbul Process and proposing to establish a four-way negotiating framework including Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US, and a four-party counterterrorism mechanism incorporating China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

The shift of China's Afghanistan policy to active involvement has drawn wide attention. The international community welcomes China undertaking more responsibilities to advance Afghanistan's reconciliation process.

When Franz-Michael Mellbin, EU special representative and head of the EU delegation to Afghanistan, visited China in March, he said that he hoped that China could continue to be actively involved in Afghanistan's reconciliation process and for more cooperation between the EU and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Afghan issue. The US and Russian governments have also endorsed China's active role in the process.

China's Afghanistan policy had changed along with its peripheral dynamic. Several aspects of China's peripheral policy have changed since 2013. China is becoming more proactive in regional and international affairs. The Chinese leadership have given particular attention to China's neighborhood in a bid to build a friendly and inclusive environment. Based on this new philosophy, China has vowed to build a community of shared interests with its neighbors, reinforcing extensive connections with them and offering available assistance to the surrounding developing countries.

In a meeting with Ghani in October 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out China's Afghanistan policy. China attaches importance to the Sino-Afghan strategic cooperative partnership, and supports Afghanistan's peaceful transition and restoration. China supports Afghanistan's efforts to defend national independence and sovereign and territorial integrity, and insists that the process of reconciliation and peaceful restoration should be led by the Afghans.

China will ramp up material and intellectual support to Afghanistan, helping it make social and economic development plans, set up training programs for professionals in all walks of life, and boost agricultural, energy and other infrastructure projects.

Afghanistan should take effective measures to protect the security of Chinese and Chinese organizations in Afghanistan. China and Afghanistan will strengthen their cooperation on law enforcement, making joint efforts to strike against terrorism, extremism, separatism and drugs. China supports Afghanistan being included regional cooperation and welcomes Afghanistan's involvement in the "Belt and Road" initiative.

China recalibrating its Afghanistan policy is also a result of China's new interactions with the international system. The current international system has seen a lot of changes, which are mainly caused by China's rise. The transformation of the international system has promoted the rearrangement of the global and regional pattern of interests. China's adjustment of its Afghanistan policy is in line with the changing patterns of interests.

The peace and stability of Central Asia and South Asia are not only essential to the advancement of the "Belt and Road" initiative, but also an important part of the security of China's western regions. Afghanistan's security situation is the most crucial issue that might jeopardize regional stability,

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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