“China, America, and Afghanistan”

The following is a translation from journalist Zhang Wen’s blog. Some brief commentary of our own follows the translation.


Today, the foreign policy bureau responded positively to America’s announced troop increase in Afghanistan, saying, “On the problem of Southern Asia that’s part of the Afghanistan problem, China and America have maintained communication and consultation, and from today forward, both countries will continue to communicate and cooperate on this issue.”

The result was that some Shanghai media outlet took “China responds to Obama’s troop increase: Willing to Cooperate with America in Afghanistan” [note: the original Chinese conveys the impression that this means China is also willing to deploy military force in Afghanistan. -ed] as a topic to report in the news, which led to a great deal of criticism. Most netizens were opposed, saying they didn’t want China to support “invaders”.

From the point of view of someone who has been compiling and editing international news for several years now, there is definitely room for imagination in the headline: China is willing to cooperate with America’s plan to increase troops. But what does “cooperate” mean?

Actually, China and the US have been cooperating on the Afghanistan problem since several years ago, mostly on the intelligence-gathering front. And there really is some common interest: the base of the US’s enemies and the Taliban are in Afghanistan; Afghanistan is also a connecting point for those who influence and cause trouble in Xinjiang province.

China’s Shanghai Cooperative Group took the lead in creating a special international meeting on the Afghanistan problem in Moscow in March of this year. The Shanghai Cooperative Group’s member countries published “Announcement of the Shanghai Cooperative Group Member Countries and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Pertaining to Fighting Terrorism, Narcotics Smuggling, and Organized Crime” and “Plan of Action of the Shanghai Cooperative Group Member Countries and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Pertaining to Fighting Terrorism, Narcotics Smuggling, and Organized Crime.”

In October, Obama came to China and spoke with Hu Jintao about the Afghanistan problem, and soon after in the “Sino-US Joint Statement” expressed that “both sides welcome anything that contributes to peace, stability, and development in Southern Asia, and support Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fight against terrorism, the struggle for internal stability, and the work towards sustainable economic development, and [China and the US also] support India and Pakistan improving and developing their relations.”

From this we can see that cooperation between the US and China in Afghanistan is becoming more common. But China has never before expressed interest in sending troops to Afghanistan. Recently, though, China’s attitude towards sending troops abroad has become more ambiguous.

In mid-November, the Chinese Ministry of Defense held a seminar on “Safeguarding International Peace”, and at this meeting a Ministry spokesman said for the first time that if the United Nations were to make demands, the recommendation should be put forward to policy makers that troops should be dispatched. Before this, China had only sent workers and medical personnel to help safeguard international peace.

After the meeting, when the French Foreign Ministry Department Head was having an informal discussion with me, she held that “it is very possible China will send combat troops to help in peacekeeping missions, but didn’t divulge anything more. But from her optimistic attitude, she probably already had gotten the opinions of some high-level [Chinese] military officials on the subject.

A famous military expert also told me, “this is the call of both international responsibility and national interests. Today, China’s national interests are no longer limited to things within its borders, and instead extend everywhere throughout the world. China’s participation in international peacekeeping is, at the same time, protecting China’s own national interests.”

If China really sends troops to participate in peacekeeping missions, where would they be sent? Obviously, we can’t rule out Afghanistan. It borders China, so deployment and reenforcement of troops would be convenient, moreover there are Xinjiang separatist forces there. One netizen commented, China can try its hand at international peacekeeping in Afghanistan and get some experience.

Because of this, I feel that if the UN were to request Chinese participation in Afghanistan, China should respond that this is both China’s international responsibility and in its own internal interests.

Many people who oppose the deployment of troops may have misunderstood a bit, thinking that Chinese and American soldiers would be fighting shoulder-to-shoulder. That is impossible. Recently, Ministry of Defense Deputy Director Colonel Kui Yanwei said that China would only participate in United Nations sanctioned peacekeeping activities, and hadn’t considered participating in multinational or regional peacekeeping efforts [that aren’t officially UN missions]. This means that China wouldn’t participate in the American-led NATO army military operations in Afghanistan.

But to tell the truth, the US didn’t “invade” Afghanistan to occupy it, they invaded to uproot and eradicate the terrorists who once inflicted heavy casualties on the US and continued to plot against them. America is trapped in Afghanistan, mired and suffering, earnestly wishing to get out, but if the area isn’t peaceful, then Americans can’t breathe easily: who knows when the next 9-11 might occur?

As for the idea that the US invaded Afghanistan to encircle and surround China, it is just ridiculous talk, ignorant of world events. If that were really the case, would the US still seek China’s support and cooperation? In the past, people have also said that the US started the Iraq war for Iraqi oil, Americans not only failed to seize the oil, they’re quickly getting out and going home.

Fear not even those with the most evil intentions who spread conjecture about others, as in the sphere of international relations it is not convincing. However, we must definitely clear up the situation and then make it public, we can’t just simply define things through ideology. On problems where there is common interest, we should cooperate when the time for cooperation comes, because that is a win-win.


It certainly seems like it is only a matter of time before China is compelled by its national interest (to say nothing of international obligation) to deploy troops somewhere outside its borders, and Afghanistan certainly is a place of special interest for China, but we can’t help but wonder if Afghanistan is a wise place for China to “try its hand” at international peacekeeping. Invading Afghanistan, historically, has pretty much never been a good idea, as the sarcastic folks at the Daily Show remind us in this clip from a while ago:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Unwinnable War in Afghanistan
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

As John Oliver puts it, “Afghanistan is the gold standard for quagmires.” Note, also, that the Daily Show folks also make reference to China’s interests in the region and makes light of China’s interest in proving itself. Though they jest, there might be some truth there. China’s military hasn’t been tested on an international stage since the late 1970s; there are almost certainly those in the military and the government generally who feel Chinese international interests might benefit from a little demonstration of power. They probably aren’t wrong, but we wonder if Afghanistan is a good place for China (or anyone) to try to show off muscle.

That, of course, is to say nothing of the explaining the poor, overworked folks at the propaganda bureau would have to do explaining away the most recent counterexample to the fairy tale that China has never invaded another country.

Honestly, the “national interests” China has in Afghanistan seem, at best, a bit vague. Yes, Xinjiang separatist types hang out there, but we were under the impression that the recent troubles in Xinjiang were supposedly caused by Rebiya Kadeer and her separatist forces in the US (aided, of course, by the diabolical Fabebook.com). Perhaps China should invade the US instead.

Just kidding. What do you think? Should China send troops to Afghanistan, or anywhere else?

0 thoughts on ““China, America, and Afghanistan””

  1. You can forget about China sending troops to Afghanistan. Well, unless Hu Jintao had a little too much to drink at the state banquet for Obama.

    In case you didn’t know, Wen Jiabao officially rejected the G2 idea as well.

    What the US asked China is to provide a supply route. You know, “兵马未动,粮草先行”. Before you send large amount of troops, you need to make sure the supply is secured. Pakistan is a mess right now, so that leaves you only have two choices, it’s either the Xinjiang route or Russia route.

    The Russian route is going to cost you, you’ll probably need to make concession on Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo, and you have to make sure the oil price goes up to at least $100/barrel. And you know how trustworthy and dependable the Russian is.

    What Obama did to the Dalai Lama was cool, but that’s not going to do it for Mr. Hu. So what’s there for China?

    Sending 30k troops instead of more the generals asked for indicates that neither route is secured yet.


  2. I think you’re missing a key part of the headline of that story: “暂”

    Of course Hu wants to whet Obama’s appetite. Anything is possible if the price is high enough. If Obama wants to trade Taiwan, I’d bet the answer is YES.


  3. I don’t think this is as all about Obama as you’re making it out to be. As I said in the post, I think it would be an awful idea for China to invade Afghanistan, but if they do, I doubt it will have much to do with what Obama wants, and would have a lot more to do with national interests real or perceived…


  4. Remember that this is the geography that gave birth to Kiplings “Great Game”. Rich in natural resourses, zealotry, crime and corruption;Russia, China, Indian,Paxistan, and the buffer states of Bhutan,Nepal, (and Kashmir), throw the
    irrational theocracy of Iran in and you have a dangerous stew rapidly coming to a boil. If I were a member of the Chinese military staff; this would be the birthplace of all my nightmares. National Interests ? From the standpoint of a military tasked with the defence of a nation and its people, this neighborhood would be my highest priority and deepest anxiety. Russia would be very unhappy
    with any support of a NATO operation (anywhere) by China, a UN peacekeeping
    deployment is a different thing entirely. Afgahnistan is not the end of the world,
    but you really can see it from here.


  5. @QQQQ Futures traders do it with leverage!

    It is not practical to supply anyone or send anything to Afghanistan directly from China. I do not think the Wakhan corridor has any proper roads. And that is just the geography to say nothing of the politics.

    All the talk of both Xinjiang separatists in Afghanistan (or Rebiya Kadeer) is a canard. What outside force orchestrated the LA riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial? I think you see my point. Also, nobody goes across the Wakhan corridor (Wakhai area, think Tajik) to link up with any radical group in Afghanistan they just go via Pakistan.

    China has a large copper mining concession in Afghanistan. There was a report (http://tiny.cc/banyan) of a Chinese military official feeling slighted because China was not listed by Secretary Gates as one of the countries contributing to the effort in Afghanistan. Interestingly this supposed contributing was not in intelligence sharing but investment in the mine project. From the linked article you can see that this stance has some issues (China not paying for the security, mine concession might have involved corruption [I am shocked, shocked!], bringing in Chinese workers so no need to hire the locals, plus it plays into the Pakistan+China vs. India problem). Given these factors if China wants to demonstrate both its commitment to “peaceful rise” and being a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system, while also giving a backhanded demonstration of its military prowess, it would be much better picking some place other than Afghanistan. If you think about the leverage China has with Sudan sending Chinese peacekeepers to Darfur might be an interesting idea.


  6. Despite having sent some limited armed forces on UN missions (Haiti, for example) I think that Afghanistan is probably not the best place for the PLA to ‘get experience’. A-Stan is is a tough spot even for the most battle-hardended US/British/NATO forces….counter-insurgency skills among troops takes YEARS to hone, not to mention the specialized equipment needed to fight such a campaign. While I do not doubt for a second the courage of the PLA, I do doubt their experience and often over-confidence expressed by their leaders. If they PLA were to enter into Afghanistan, they WOULD take casualties…that is guaranteeed and China would soon find itself facing a similar, if not tougher (given the only-son nature of the PLA) homefront PR campaign that the West has been facing since 2001.


  7. I would also add that every Western nation in Afghansistan has faced some kind of equipment issue. With Canadians it was lack of appropriate armoured vehicles, air-lift capability, and arid-environment camo. The French didn’t have enough radios. The Americans’ didn’t have enough body-armour.

    The PLA was having equipment issues during the Sichuan Earthquake. If the the PLA were to contribute boots, I would invision a role similar to the minor ISAF players as I personally don’t thinkt they the have equipment appropriate to the Afghanistan situation.


  8. I recall that chinadaily says that China has no interest in sending troops to Afghanistan. Besides, there’s little strategic interest in Afghanistan anyways, unlike oil. Yes, there is the copper mines there which China put a few billions there. Even if the Chinese is driven out of afghanistan, they can get copper somewhere else.


  9. @ C. Custer:

    I wrote a comment on this post yesterday. I never saw it appear. What is the deal with that? Was there some sort of problem with the comment or is there some sort of system issue? I took the time to look up information about the topic and included a tiny url link to another relevant article. Please get back to me (via email or here I suppose) so that I can know whether I should bother to use my time and effort responding to posts on this blog in future.


  10. Either your connection is bad and the comment didn’t actually send, or it got scooped up by the spam filter (comments with links in them often do). I will check the filter and release it, if it is in there.

    Edit: Yup, spam filter got it. I just released it. If it happens again let me know; otherwise all the spam does get deleted periodically so your comment could be lost.


  11. First of all China is already there mining the crap out of the place for copper.
    “Most netizens were opposed, saying they didn’t want China to support “invaders”.”
    Those netizens are a bunch of uninformed poopheads.
    These same netizens’ fine nation have been “invading” tons of places lately. Papua New Guinea rings a bell. They bring with them hundreds of workers, exploit the crap out of the place and then hightail it back home with all their new riches—or worse stay there forever and piss off the natives.
    In Afghanistan, at that same mine mentioned above, the U.S. Armed Services are providing security for your netizens’ nations fine, noble, moralistic, and never hypocritical mining industry. You keep barking about us violent Yanks but you love the fact that while we are fighting to make the world a better place, you just see it as another opportunity to make some quick cash. Get off your high horse.


  12. SGT Slaughter,

    Give me a break. The reason why China don’t do business in Afghanistan is that place is just plain lawless and there is no such thing as a ‘central government.’


  13. @PUG_STER

    They DO do business in Afghanistan and anywhere that has resources they can exploit.
    Also your argument that they wouldn’t do business in a place that is “lawless” is completely laughable. They are all over Zimbabwe, Sudan, and a plethora of other lawless places happily making money and crapping all over the locals livelihood for the benefit of their motherland.
    Wake up buddy.
    Go take a poop. You are full of it.


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