As the US withdrawal from Afghanistan nears completion, the race for influence is underway. From China to Turkey, each country has specific interests that influence its engagement in Afghanistan’s future, and the relations of regional powers demonstrate the realpolitik at play at a time when the security situation in Afghanistan is fluid and generally deteriorating.
As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, China will almost certainly be drawn to it for economic and strategic reasons. Estimated to contain untapped mineral wealth worth around US$1 trillion, Afghanistan could provide alternatives to the Kazakhstan-Russia overland route of the Belt-Road Initiative and to the existing route through Pakistan to the Iranian oil and gas fields. In both cases, China would need to be able to fully secure those new routes at a time when the security situation in Afghanistan is looking increasingly precarious and while also ensuring that any unrest in Afghanistan does not spill over into Xinjiang province.
China’s deteriorating international relationships could see countries work with the United States to curb China’s ability to use the South China Sea, or provide basing and logistical support to the US, or both, leaving China prevented from importing its sea-borne energy requirements and exporting its manufactured goods. Beijing, therefore, needs to be able to access its energy sources from Turkmenistan and Iran via overland routes that run through Central Asia, and to export its manufactured goods along them. Those routes need to be securitised, however, requiring China to extend its influence over Central Asia. That objective could encounter some severe challenges.
While officials in the Biden Administration have emphasised that Pakistan is important to US foreign policy, especially in the context of achieving the withdrawal of the remaining US troops in Afghanistan, many believe that the White House should have been more pro-active in its engagement with Pakistan. For Islamabad, having drawn closer to Beijing, striking a balance between its relationships with the US and China has become more difficult and the US-Pakistan relationship will be greatly influenced by the Beijing-Washington nexus.
The Challenges to China’s National Rejuvenation – Part Two: The Failure of China’s Foreign Relations
China’s foreign relations are deteriorating rapidly in the wake of its aggressive behaviour, which has led many democracies to enact measures to reduce China’s influence and, increasingly, to act together to counter it. As China becomes more isolated from developed countries, its economy is placed at further risk with the potential also to derail General Secretary Xi’s overall plan for national rejuvenation.
The Challenges to China’s National Rejuvenation – Part One: The Demographic and Technological Deficits
China’s plans to become the global technological hegemon could fail. Its dependency on microprocessor technology that it currently obtains from the West, for instance, has major negative ramifications for Mr Xi’s rejuvenation of China. Those negative outcomes will be compounded by its demographic trends, which indicate that China will, if they continue, become a country that gets old before it gets rich.
Due to troubled ties with its neighbours, India’s attempts at enhancing its transport connections in South Asia and beyond have not been entirely successful. With both the Pakistani and Indian economies facing difficult challenges, it makes sense to boost bilateral trade relations and explore new forms of connectivity. While better connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia would benefit India, Pakistan, too, would benefit from more harmonious relations, economically, politically and security-wise.
The US-China Phase One Trade Agreement was under review by the Biden Administration as part of a reappraisal of the broader Sino-US relationship. Public statements from several senior members of the administration, however, indicate that the trade agreement will not be abandoned. It is clear that, unless Beijing’s behaviour changes considerably, the Biden Administration’s approach to trade with China will not be vastly different to that of the Trump Administration.
The Joint Statement by the Directors-General of Military Operations of India and Pakistan calling for a ceasefire can be attributed to both internal and external factors on both sides of the border and follows the decision of both India and China to disengage. For both countries, the best way ahead will be to get results from low-hanging fruit, such as bilateral trade. While past attempts to reduce tensions have not succeeded, there is no reason why a fresh start, with realistic expectations, should not be made again.
Biden’s promises to bring “decency” to the US’s policies – effectively, to reverse Trump’s initiatives – are already being viewed with concern in the Middle East and threaten to once again roil that region and turn it against Washington.