China Will Bribe the Taliban and Take What It Needs From Afghanistan, Expert Says

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
September 10, 2021 Updated: September 10, 2021

The communist regime in China will use bribery and corruption to get what it needs from Afghanistan, as Beijing continues to foster its ties with the Taliban, a China expert said during an EpochTV webinar on Sept. 8.

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel and a senior fellow at the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Security Policy, said China has used the same tactics with other countries.

“You get in, you bribe enough of the elite, pay them off, and you create a constituency that benefits financially from the Chinese presence. You don’t try to do too much in terms of transforming the society, and you’ve got [the] Chinese who are willing to go in there and do business at the front end,” Newsham said, explaining how Beijing would advance its ties with the militant group.

“Then you just squeeze the juice out of the country,” he added, “If the Taliban can sort of establish any sort of order in the country.”

On Wednesday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi announced that it would donate 200 million yuan (about $31 million) in aid to the Taliban, including grains, winter supplies, medicine, and COVID-19 vaccine shots. In July, before the terrorist group seized Kabul, Wang welcomed a visiting Taliban delegation.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has said it considers China to be its “main partner” and expressed the desire to continue being part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as “One Belt, One Road”).

“They [China] know what they want and that is the resources that they can squeeze out of a place,” Newsham said. China has a “very fundamentally different approach to going into these countries” than the United States, he added.

The Chinese regime is hungry for natural resources to drive its economy. In 2008, a consortium of two Chinese companies was awarded a 30-year lease to mine Afghanistan’s Mes Aynak copper mine, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimated to hold “240 million metric tons of ore at 2.3 percent copper.”

In 2016, the Taliban agreed to offer security for the copper project. However, to this day, the project hasn’t gotten off the ground because of security risks.

Estimates show that Afghanistan has natural resources that are worth nearly $3 trillion, including copper, gold, rare earth metals, lithium, lead, and coal.

“There’s only so much they [China] want in Afghanistan,” Newsham said, adding that the landlocked nation does not have any naval port that China would want to build a presence in.

China rolled out BRI in 2013 to build land and maritime trade routes in an effort to build up its geopolitical influence. One of the maritime trade routes that Beijing seeks to build spans from China, the Indian Ocean, African, to the Mediterranean Ocean.

To realize its maritime trade route, China has taken control of several seaports in the form of a lease in the Indian Ocean, including Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, and Burma’s (Myanmar) Kyaukpyu Port.

Newsham speculated that the Chinese regime could end up having the Taliban sign a contract. And if the Taliban defaults on its loans, this would allow the regime to take control of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province or Bagram Airfield, a former U.S. air base.

Helmand Province is located in southern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, making the province a suitable option for Afghanistan to integrate into the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor is a BRI infrastructure project linking China’s far-western region of Xinjiang to Pakistan and the latter’s seaports, including Gwadar.

A few years down the line, however, local Afghan people will not be happy about China’s presence, Newsham said.

“The Afghans will tire of them or feel they’re not getting their cut of it. At that point, life can start to get nasty for … those Chinese down at the local level in Afghanistan,” he explained.

Many developing countries have become indebted to China after joining the BRI—in what critics say is Beijing’s “debt trap diplomacy.” One example is Kenya, a BRI member that has struggled to repay its Chinese debts. There have been incidents of Chinese companies in Kenya acting discriminately against Kenyans, leading to local protests.

Newsham also raised doubts about the Biden administration’s objective of shifting U.S. focus to Asia, by pulling U.S forces out of Afghanistan.

“I don’t quite see how this shift to the Asia Pacific is going to work. I’d like to think it would, but I don’t see any evidence that the people running the show are going to pull it off,” he said. 

Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.