Afghanistan’s newly ensconced Taliban regime has been looking to China for major economic support, but the Taliban’s lithium-mining invitation to South Korea has displeased the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). To keep Beijing happy, the Taliban offered it copper mining rights.
Enduring 20 years of war, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 was $19.8 billion (compared to the United State’s $20.93 trillion), and its GDP per capita was only $508.8 (compared to United State’s $63,543.6). Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed last year that 90 percent of Afghanistan’s population was living on less than $2 a day.
On Sept. 7, the Taliban established a new government and urgently sought to rebuild Afghanistan. According to NetEase News, a Chinese state-owned media, the Taliban have repeatedly praised the CCP and called it a “great neighbor,” seeking immediate investments from the CCP that would help to rebuild Afghanistan.
According to the 2017-2018 Minerals Yearbook of Afghanistan (pdf) issued by the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of the Interior, Afghanistan sits on rich bauxite, copper, iron, lithium, and rare earth deposits. However, the report said that most of these mineral resources had not been developed due to Afghanistan’s deteriorating security, political instability, and lack of infrastructure.
In 2010, U.S. military officials and geologists estimated that Afghanistan sits on $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits. According to the surveys conducted by Afghanistan’s own Ministry of Mines and Petroleum in 2017, its mineral resources may be worth as high as $3 trillion, which is more than enough to compensate for the cost of war.
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Aug. 23, the Taliban suggested that its newly established government seeks to develop strong ties with South Korea and enable economic exchanges. It stated that Afghanistan has mineral resources such as lithium, and since South Korea leads in the electronics manufacturing industry, they believe that both parties can mutually benefit.
This statement from the Taliban dissatisfied the CCP. NetEase News called the Taliban’s statement an “act of bad faith,” suggesting that it “showed goodwill to China on the surface but is secretly handing its mineral deposits over to South Korea.”
Lithium is the main element of lithium-ion batteries, a critical component of smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), with the global transition to clean energy, by 2040, the demand for lithium under its sustainable development scenario will increase by 40 percent.
On Sept. 13, Gao Fengyi, a political commentator living in Japan, told The Epoch Times that he thinks the CCP aims to seize all minerals in Afghanistan. However, after the Taliban invited South Korea to mine the lithium deposits, the Chinese state-owned media immediately called it a “treacherous” move, indicating that there may already be an agreement between the CCP and the Taliban.
Gao suggested that the Taliban regime wishes to gain global recognition, and developing relations with South Korea, an ally of the United States, could be beneficial. On the other hand, it does not want to be hostile toward the United States and hopes to advance its economy through cooperation with South Korea.
Taliban Handing Copper Mining Rights to the CCP
On Sept. 8, Global Times, a Chinese state-owned newspaper, reported that the Taliban was preparing to give the CCP its copper mining rights. Copper is an essential element for electric wiring, electronic products, motors, and many other products manufactured in China. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said at a press conference on Sept. 6 that the CCP is its “most important partner,” reiterating its support for the CCP’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” It also hopes that Beijing will help rebuild the war-torn country, in exchange, allowing the CCP to mine its copper deposits.
NetEase News once called the Taliban “treacherous” for seeking to work with South Korea, then suddenly reversed its tone. On Sept. 12, it praised the Taliban for “delivering an enormous gift in good faith” to the CCP and said it has “resolved China’s urgent need [for minerals].”
The CCP already had mining operations in Afghanistan previously. In May 2008, China Metallurgical Group, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, bought the exploration lease on the massive deposit for the Mes Aynak copper mine near Kabul for $2.898 billion. However, the project was stalled for more than a decade due to security concerns in the region.
The Mes Aynak copper mine is located in the central-eastern part of Afghanistan. According to Sina News, a Chinese state-owned media, the mine’s ore volume amounts to 705 million tons, with an average copper content of 1.56 percent and a copper metal content of 11 million tons. It is an extra-large scale copper deposit.
Analysis: Criminal Regimes Using One Another
In an Epoch Times interview on Sept. 13, Yang Si, a political commentator with a dual Ph.D. from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Tokyo, said the Taliban’s problem is that it wishes to rid itself of the image of terrorism. It knows that a country cannot always be killing its civilians, and it needs international acceptance.
When it comes to the relationship between the Taliban and the CCP, Yang believes they are both “criminal regimes,” using each other. Yang said that the Taliban knew very well that the CCP was supporting it purely due to its vast mineral resources.
“Gangs have no trust in one another; they are always on guard against the other. The Taliban is afraid of the CCP’s aggression onto its territories and resources, so it kept a hidden hand, playing a game of balance. At the same time, the CCP is worried that the Taliban might betray it by supporting Xinjiang Uyghurs. The Taliban and the CCP differ in their religious beliefs. As neighboring countries, they have both conflicts and interests,” Yang said.
Yang suggested that the Taliban is hoping for immediate support from the CCP, but it doesn’t want to be controlled. Thus, on the one hand, it hands over copper-mining rights to China; on the other hand, it seeks cooperation with South Korea for its well-established technology.