A bit late to post here, but a longer interview I did late last month for the the Chinese newspaper I occasionally write for 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post). The interview focuses on China in Afghanistan, a topic I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on and you can find more about on the China in Central Asia site. I have put the published Chinese on top, but the English interview I initially did it pasted below.
早报记者 黄翱 发表于2014-04-28 07:06
1. In the post-ISAF ear, should China take a major role of the regional geopolitics of Afghanistan? If does, what the role should be?
Yes, China should take on a much bigger role in Afghanistan in the future. As one of the major regional giants with interests in Afghanistan, China has an important role to play – this is in terms of the country’s economic future, but also in terms of its political and security future. So far China has tried to avoid doing too much in this direction, but without the western interest and focus it will increasingly fall to regional powers like China to take these roles on.
2. How could China make clear to the Afghan people and international community of a clearer Afghan strategy?
The problem here is complicated as the fundamental divergence between Chinese policy and action really lies in the big investment projects that are being done by Chinese companies. Many Afghans I have spoken to complain about the Mes Aynak project being run by MCC/Jiangxi Copper saying that it is something that company has just been sitting on and blocking impeding the ability to develop the site. They then resent China for not doing more to make the project start. I am sure the reality on the ground is complicated, but I also am sure that more could be done.
What Afghanistan needs is not only a political statement, but also demonstrations of action. So far, China has played a role in Afghanistan, but not a major one. The Afghans hope and expect that China will say it will play a major role and then follow through. The final element to remember is that China needs to find a way of balancing its relationship with Pakistan with that with Afghanistan. The Afghans often become agitated when they see how much China does and supports Pakistan (a country they have a very complicated relationship with) and how relatively less China does with them.
3. Should China provide more security product in the region? How could China do so?
Yes, China does need to do more in security terms in Afghanistan. This could look in a few different directions. First, help the Afghans strengthen their border security – China has learned many lessons about Central Asian borders through the SCO and its partnerships in Central Asia. These could be translated to help Afghanistan strengthen its borders. Training: the Chinese government already does some limited training of security forces (ANP mostly I believe) in Afghanistan. It should increase these numbers substantially. Develop local security forces to protect mining sites: the Afghan interior ministry has already created a special Aynak protection force essentially – helping fund or train more in this direction would be a good thing that would also help secure Chinese investments.
4. What would be the greatest obstacle of Chinese enterprises expanding their business in Afghanistan? How should China do to remove it?
Security is the biggest problem, so see my previous answer. The other aspect is Afghanistan’s legal framework and official technocratic capacity. This China can help in two ways: first, ensure that Chinese firms doing investments in Afghanistan do not indulge in corrupt practices. If everyone stops doing this the system will improve, but you have to start somewhere. If the government makes sure that state owned firms investing in the country are not using bribes and are adhering to Afghan law this will help. Second, the Chinese government should explore looking at offering training at Chinese technical universities or sponsoring scholarships for junior Afghan officials to go and learn about (for example) drafting laws or other technical skills this will help Afghanistan develop the capacity to have a better and more efficient set of officials who can help the country grow and become more stable. It will also mean that Chinese businesses investing in the country will have a more effective group of officials to interact with making the Afghan system more efficient.