In Afghanistan, China extends its reach

March 23, 2009

Afghanistan sits on one of the largest mineral deposits in the region, the country’s mines minister told Reuters in an interview this month.

And the Chinese are already there, braving the Taliban upsurge and a slowing economy at home to invest in the vast Aynak copper field south of Kabul, reputed to hold one of the largest deposits of the metal in the world.

In what is the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan, China  last year committed  nearly $2.9 billion to develop the Aynak field including the infrastructure  that must be built with it such as a power station to run the operation and a railroad to haul the tons of copper it hopes to extract.

Despite Afghanistan’s deteriorating security including in Logar province which is where the Aynak reserves are located and which serves as one of the gateways  to Kabul,  China has said it will carry out the project, the Afghan mines minister Mohammad Ibrahim Adel said.

China Metallurgical Group,  the state-run firm which won the 30-year concesssion along with Jiangxi Copper Co, has already begun paving a dirt road near the mine, according to a report by McClatchy Newspapers this month. Interestingly, the report notes that the U.S. military, which has set up bases in the Logar area to strangle Taliban infiltration into Kabul, has ended up indirectly “providing security that will enable China to exploit one of the world’s largest unexploited deposits of copper, earn tens of billions of dollars and feed its voracious appetite for raw materials.”

China has operated in the shadows in Afghanistan, compared with Pakistan, India and Iran which  are engaged in a much more public battle for influence there.

The Chinese decision to invest in the copper reserves which were discovered back in 1974 could make a real difference to ordinary people. The government estimates the mine will directly employ 10,000 Afghans and indirectly employ 20,000 more. Further, the contract obliges the Chinese firm to build new living areas for workers and provide much needed infrastructure like roads, hospitals, schools, and electricity, along with the railroad.

Besides building influence in Afghanistan, the Chinese have long been suspected of playing a bigger game of securing cross-brder connections in Central Asia, Iran and South Asia to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The freight railroad that they envison will run through its western provinces to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and then Pakistan.

One part of this grid may already be falling into place after Tajikistan announced last week that it had begun building a railroad to connect its capital Dushanbe to a bridge on the Afghan border. The immediate trigger for building the Afghan-Tajik link is because NATO is looking for a route through the former Soviet Union to move supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan.

But again, it also fits in nicely with China’s own plans for connectivity in the region. Is it a  case of heads America loses, tails China wins ?

[Photo of women in Logar and Presidents Hu Jintao and Hamid Karzai]

31 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

With China and Pakistan having been long-term strategic allies, China making inroads into Afghan energy sector is very significant. China is already become an important player in Africa in similar way, investing hugely in energy sectors of poor African nations. Those African nations in return have given major concessions to China.

The Chinese are very wise, making real time direct investment, unlike aid through NGOs. This is the winning strategy adopted by China.

China invested in Baluchistan, Pakistan to develop Gwadar deep sea port. Pakistan stands to gain in this, infact it is a security guarantee. China will never allow anyone to jeopardize its investment in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

China’s moves must be watched carefully. They cannot be trusted. Chinese move into the region might jeopardize American efforts in Afghanistan. Let us see how things unfold.

The Gwadar Port project employed close to 500 Chinese nationals by 2004. On 03 May 2004, the BLA killed three Chinese engineers working on the Port ..

Almost all the construction contracts were awarded to non-Baloch, mainly Punjabi, firms. Despite thousands of jobless Baloch engineers and technicians being available, only low-grade jobs are offered to Baloch workers. The rest of the positions are filled largely by Punjabi and other non-Baloch workers. Of the 600 personnel that worked on the first stage of construction, only 100 were Baloch, and they were mainly day-labourers. No effort has been made by the central government to train the local population so they can obtain jobs at Gwadar.

Once the Musharraf government’s plans for the port are complete, the population of Gwadar and surrounding districts will rise from 70,000 to 2 million, overwhelmingly transforming the ethnic makeup of the region as Punjabi, Sindhi and other workers are moved into the area.

This is not an uncommon situation for areas under development in Balochistan, or in civil administration or the military where Baloch are significantly under-represented. Less than 1% of the 30,000 FC personnel in Balochistan are Baloch and only 3% of the coastguard is ethnic Baloch. Nawab Akbar Bugti articulated the fears of the Baloch people in January 2005 when he accused the Musharraf government of “trying to change the Baloch majority into a minority by accommodating more than five million non-locals in Gwadar and other developed areas”.

http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php  ?article4120

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Chinese engineer killed in Kenya attack
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007- 02/01/content_798974.htm

Nigerian militants warn Chinese of attack
http://www.africamasterweb.com/AdSense/N igerianMilitantsWarnChineseAttack.html

Officials: 74 dead in attack on Chinese oil field in Ethiopia
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/ africa/officials-74-dead-in-attack-on-ch inese-oil-field-in-ethiopia-446063.html

China’s hunger for African minerals
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/ 6264476.stm

China in Africa: Friend or foe?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/708677 7.stm

Miners riot over pay at Chinese owned mine, injuring three
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/03/0 4/africa/AF-GEN-Zambia-Mine.php

Some 500 Zambian mine workers have been sacked after rioting and attacking a Chinese manager
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/728078 2.stm

An attack on a Chinese energy exploration facility in eastern Ethiopia has left nine Chinese dead
http://www.stratfor.com/memberships/2818 7/china_ethiopia_facing_price_engaging_a frica
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk  /L26399674.htm

China’s Expansion Puts Workers in Harm\’s Way; Attack on Ethiopian Oil Field Highlights Political Perils of Pursuing Resources Abroad
http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1P2-5877 512.html

Suicide bomb attack jolts China into realising the risks of global ambition
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/wo rld/asia/article2106397.ece

Posted by David | Report as abusive

In pictures: China’s African road gangs
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pi cture_gallery/07/africa_china0s_african_ road_gangs/html/1.stm

CHINA’S AFRICAN EMPIRE
http://www.orwelltoday.com/chinaafricaar msoil.shtml

Chinese workers live separately from Angolans in specially-built compounds.
China takes Angola’s raw materials, but not its manufactured products.
When cheap Chinese imports flood the local marketplace, it is argued that they kill off local industry.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pi cture_gallery/07/africa_china_in_angola/ html/1.stm

Arable Land, the new gold rush
Chinese private-sector companies are looking at investing in farmland, although officials say that they are focusing on central Asia rather than Africa
http://en.afrik.com/article14301.html

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Protests broke out in Zambia in July about the alleged ill-treatment of workers at a Chinese-owned mine, and there have been reports of pay disputes in Namibia.
There have also been criticisms of how Chinese-owned firms are treating African workers.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6111 256.stm

On 3 May 2004, three Chinese engineers were killed and eleven others, including nine Chinese and two Pakistanis, were injured when a remote-controlled car bomb hit their van. The engineers had been traveling to the Gwadar port in the southwest Pakistani province of Baluchistan.
http://www.allbusiness.com/government/10 15628-1.html

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Three Chinese engineers were killed and eleven others, including nine Chinese and two Pakistanis, were injured when a remote-controlled car bomb hit their van. The engineers had been traveling to the Gwadar port in the southwest Pakistani province of Baluchistan.
http://www.allbusiness.com/government/10 15628-1.html

Protests broke out in Zambia in July about the alleged ill-treatment of workers at a Chinese-owned mine, and there have been reports of pay disputes in Namibia.
There have also been criticisms of how Chinese-owned firms are treating African workers.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6111 256.stm

Posted by David | Report as abusive

2.9 billion $ investment is very less on the part of china when India can invest 2 billion $ for development of Afghans..Copper is not scarece in the world for china to fill its appetite for raw copper by mines in afghanistan..with the mode of communication becoming more and more wirelessby everyday the deman for copper is going down..if afghanistan has the largest copper reserve..then it makes sense for them to extract it sell before the value of copper totally collapse..but when it comes to a foreign country extracting your natural resources..there has to be more than just assurance for employment..typically china should have paid a 50% of estimated profit from those mines to afghanistan govt to secure right to extract and export…I hope that happened.

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive

Clearly, the Chinese objectives are not entirely altruistic in Pakistan or Afghanistan or anywhere else. Their strategy is driven by enlightened self-interest in the developing world, which they see as source of commodities that their industries need as well as growing export market for their products and services. But the Chinese want to do good and do well at the same time by helping to lift people out of poverty in the developing world. By doing so, they want to be seen as friends and partners by the people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The strategy enhances China’s status as the new superpower that takes its global leadership role seriously.

To Sanjeev,

China already sees itself as a global power; next to the US. No wonder, the US also acknowledges China’s role in geo-politics openly. China’s forays in to Afghanistan are a natural extension to its foreign policy. Why should it surprise anyone?

To Riaz Haq,

China is driven by self-interest and it’s often ruthless in its pursuit to access foreign raw material, manpower and capital. Contrary to your view, China does not care for the poor in the developing countries. In Africa it’s evident for many to see. Check out any debate on African businesses and African people and you may see the ugly face of the consequences of trade with China.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

Nikhil wrote:
“Contrary to your view, China does not care for the poor in the developing countries. In Africa it’s evident for many to see. Check out any debate on African businesses and African people and you may see the ugly face of the consequences of trade with China.”

-No Nikhil, unlike colonialism and exploitation by imperialists, the poor African country see China as an important partner willing to invest in their agriculture and energy sectors. The Chinese are making real time investment in poor countries, Afghanistan is not an exception. This brings foreign exchange and expertise to the locals as well as training of the work force. In Africa, you need to make a distinction between China and those colonial powers that are responsible for the poverty of Africans.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Umair,

I’m not comparing colonization of Africa, such as the East India Company, to foreign investment by the Chinese. Let’s be clear on that. The African nations welcome investments; Chinese or otherwise, but the Chinese investment often comes with steep hidden costs.

China is a culprit of its own ambitions. China does not hesitate to partner with dubious governments or ruthless dictators. As a result, in the end, the local industry is often wiped out or the local dissentors are killed by their rulers with Chinese weapons. It’s globalization with Chinese characteristics at its worst. It’s evident on the continent of Africa where more Chinese workers are now employed in their factories than the locals.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

Nikhil:
“China is a culprit of its own ambitions. China does not hesitate to partner with dubious governments or ruthless dictators. As a result, in the end, the local industry is often wiped out or the local dissentors are killed by their rulers with Chinese weapons.”

And what aboiut America, just about any dictator around the world, the US will partner with them to further its own vested interests. As with the weapons, the only difference is America sells weapons to others and later on impose embargos like done with Pakistani F-16s. The US was a close allies of the Shah of Iran, the Shah became a tyrant and out of touch with his people. Wasn’t that immoral on part of the US.

Yes, cheap Chinese import are an threat to every country’s local industry. But todays recession shows protectionism and barriers to trade will only add to the problems. The only solutiion is lessen the barriers to trade, have a more open and transparent trading mechanism. The WTO is there to ensure it, any poor nation member of WTO can complain against China if it has any problem. China is an emerging power and it will pursue its global aspirations only more vigoursoly, Pakistan is lucky to have a long standing relationship with China, while India always tris to compete with China which is wrong. In todays globalized world, all countries win or loose together. The recession is a good exampe of it, what started in the US has global implications.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Umair,

I was waiting for you to remind me of the US actions in supporting the dictators. Good, that you’re predictable.

Aren’t Pakistanis, including you, opposing US actions in Pakistan despite the US giving billions of dollars in cash? The US has been Pakistan’s biggest external patron & a member of “friends of Pakistan” group. Some may argue the US is investing in Pakistan and supporting democracy. If Pakistanis can see through the duplicity of the Americans, on the same token, the Africans also see the duplicity of the Chinese on their continent.

Please save more years before you jump to conclusion of how blessed Pakistan feels to be sitting in Chinese lap. I used to hear the same about the US-Pakistan relationship. The realities are different now, aren’t they? China is notorious for artificially undercutting prices, killing dissenters or simply buying out weak governments or ruthless dictators. When time is right China will demand its share of flesh from Pakistan.

Now, regarding India & China trade. Pakistan cannot hope to compete with China, while India can and in many sectors it already does. Moreover, China & India also trade with each other (over $20 billion last year) which go to show that “collaborate and compete” is the mantra between the two countries.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

China is a ruthless society. They are very similar to the Japanese before world war II. They will crush anything that comes on their way. They are slowly gaining power and at some point will show their true colors. Americans have made shady deals for geo-political interests. But Americans can be criticized and they have freedom at home. People can protest against their government’s wrong doings and their government can change every four years. China has none of that. Their whole country has grown knowing nothing about individual freedom. They are all driven around like a flock of sheep by wielding the stick. When they have grown with such a culture over the past 60 years, their outlook is very different and they will approach the world in a very different way. Humane methods are unknown to them. Going too close to this country in the long run will result in utter ruin. You can only survive by submitting to them and taking orders from them. They have utter disregard for the rest of the world and are only biding their time to reach that threshold which will make them an absolute power. Pakistan is most welcome to become a vassal state to China. North Korea is already in that state. China protects North Korea and even the US wouldn’t dare enter there. The same will happen with Pakistan. May be it is good in one way. Pakistan is used to despotism. When its religious zealots clash with communism, they will get to see the ruthless monster they went to bed with. Good luck. You guys make a wonderful combination.

There is no P in BRIC.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

China is a global power with cheap exports. However, these exports are getting less and less. In January China’s exports were down by 17% and in February they were down by 25%. People in China are happy as long as they have a job and can afford to live in similar accommodation as those in Western countries. As long as they can afford the latest wide, flatscreen TV, DVD player, mobilephones and vacations in Europe; they are happy. As soon as they lose their jobs and wages owed to them are not paid…then you get problems.

I read that the Olympic stadium is still empty and is costing a fortune to keep.

China will pay about $9 million annually to maintain the Bird’s Nest, but that the only event scheduled this year is an Aug. 8 opera performance. (LA Times)

Its not only the Olympic buildings that are suffering.
China’s Own Version of the Real Estate Bust (TIME, Sunday, Mar. 15, 2009)

In the African nations only Chinese engineers are employed to do the skilled work. The Africans are employed to do the labouring.

China may be considered a global power, but it still has a long way to go:

(from Times (UK))
Engine failure forced one of China’s most advanced fighter jets to make an emergency landing.
The J-10, which China has taken about 20 years to make.
All the J-10 fighters built so far are believed to be powered by a single Russian-built turbofan engine, the AL-31F. Diplomats said that there had been problems adapting the plane and the engine to fit, adding that the use of a Russian engine could affect Chinese plans to sell the jet overseas. China already has an order for 40 of the fighters from Pakistan.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

funny how people’s perseptions are changed by prejudices.

India is investing heavily in insfrastructure of Afghanistan, building hospitals, roads etc without any easy to see returns. Umair and his fellow pakis see it undesirable.
China is developing a mine to get herself raw materials cheap and the same fellows see it beneficial. How hypocritical!

What china is doing in Africa is neo-colonism. All raw material is taken back to China and processed material is brought back to these African countries to sell. Very little benefit is trickeled down to the African people.Sort of Deja Vu of what east india company used to do.

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

Nikhil wrote:
“Please save more years before you jump to conclusion of how blessed Pakistan feels to be sitting in Chinese lap. I used to hear the same about the US-Pakistan relationship. The realities are different now, aren’t they?”

Nikhil, here are few facts for you, PIA(Pakistan International Airlines) was the first ever non-communist airline in the world to start flying into China back in the 70s. US secretary of state Henry Kissinger flew in to China from Islamabad International Airport way back. Pakistan played a major role in establishing diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing. Pak-China relationship is on even footing and reciprocal in nature. US sold fighter jets to Pakistan and blocked the spare parts. China sold fighter jets and went on to produce them inside Pakistan jointly. Today k-8 jet trainer produced jointly by Pakistan and China is being used by atleast 8 Air Forces in the world. The JF-17 fighter aircraft is another successfulproject and already few countries have expressed their interest. Can you see the difference?

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

@Umair,

China is busy conducting active espionage with an Army of spies on the United States AND Canada to steal military and industrial and commercial assets.

Umair, if it suited China to keep its investments, while Pakistan disintegrates, China could care less. Let me tell you, the Chinese could care less for relgious groups either, if crushing the Tibetans is any indication, you should know that India has been thousands of times nicer to Tibetans and Muslims.

Your basis of your weak and conditional friendship with China is a common hatred and competition with India. If it suited the Chinese, they could care less for Pakistan, so don’t kid yourself.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

It is interesting to note that most deals between Pakistan and China have been military oriented – fighter trainer, k-8, JF-17 fighter aircraft and so on.

It is ok for countries to have strategic relationships. India has similar relationship with Russia, which is mostly defense oriented – air craft carriers, submarines, fighter jets and so on.

At least the Russians gave up communism and have embraced free market and freedom of its citizens. China will be a hard nut to crack and its communist junta controls things tightly. And it is they who cannot be trusted.

@Umair,

Umair don’t get too happy with yourself, China is only friends with Pakistan to suit its own ends, not because there is something glowing and special about Pakistan being a beacon of human achievement. There are no human rights in China, no quality, no safety. It is also a country where the state imprisons people for speaking their mind. I don’t know why you would feel so proud being friends with communists. Don’t get me wrong, I love ancient cultures, but I love China of olden days, similarly, I love Persia, not Iran.

I don’t care, nor would brag about a friendship with a repressive regime, like China’s.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Umair,

By the way, don’t think for a second that China would not crush the muslims, if they were high enough in numbers and it felt its Territorial Integrity threatened, the Communist Junta would attack Islam itself in China, just the way they are attacking Buddhists. I just wanted to sober you up to that fact. This fact should make you realize that India is a saint, compared to China.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

These guys never learn. Communists are the worst compared to even religious ideologues. They saw Afghanistan reduced to rubble by communist invasion. And they are courting another communist nation like China. If China takes over Pakistan, trust me, they will crush the religious establishment with no mercy. One has to deal with them from a position of strength and not dependency. If you depend on them, they will walk in and bleed you out completely. And they will have no regrets. Start learning Mandarin fast, because Urdu will be abolished.

China is dumping African countries after commodity prices have crashed. Afghanistan will also be dumped sooner by “pragmatic Chinese” who are always ready to kill Tibetans with their iron rods.

As Chinese Investment in Africa Drops, Hope Sinks – http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/world/ africa/26chinaafrica.html?_r=2&pagewante d=all

Posted by Venkat | Report as abusive

Umair,

My point exactly. The China-Pak relationship started for security reasons and it’ll end in bitter divorce for idealogical reasons. Wait and watch.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

Wow, so much parnoia. China is vested in it’s own interest like every other country on this planet. You’re kidding yourself if you think the Americans are doing it because they are altruistic to the bone. Just like in Iraq resources and an oil pipeline will be next.

Posted by pcp | Report as abusive

Sounds like the battle field is being set .. interesting setup

Posted by Ahmad | Report as abusive

To pcp,

What can we say, wherever China goes it creates paranoia and anxiety; may be for right or wrong reasons.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

I do not think the Taliban will choose to attack China. Let us remember that China is one of the worlds super powers in every respect.

All they need is a reason to join the international crusade against the Taliban.

And the fact that they share borders with Afghanistan means if the Taliban provokes China it will result in a ferocious Chinese retaliation.

Also since Nato and Pakistan have stepped up offensive against the Taliban the insurgents have other things on their minds.

And finally let us remember the fact that China are INVESTING in the region, which should be seen as a good thing by the Taliban.

“”By the way, don’t think for a second that China would not crush the muslims,”"
Im sure you mean Extreamist Muslims. Allocating a general name for extreamist muslims and normal muslims is arrogant and plain stupid.

Posted by Parsa Akbari | Report as abusive

I chuckle every time I see or hear the unthinking comments about how much better off the former communist countries are since they embraced capitalism. I suggest you do a little more serious research.
East european countries like Romania, Hungary, Checks and E Germans had free medical, adequate housing at equable prices, free education, reasonable and dependable pensions. These are now all gone, and the majority of people will tell you they have returned to the desperation of the post war period.
Your ideology is showing along with your ignorance. Any immigrant will tell you why these people want to return the communist governments. Their educational standards were far and away better than the west. We see professors here constantly complaining university students cannot even write clear English. University students!