China’s top security official made a surprise four-hour visit to Afghanistan, the first by a ranking Chinese political figure since 1966, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Zhou Yongkang, one of the nine members in the Standing Committee of the Politburo, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sept. 22 and said China “will actively participate in Afghanistan’s reconstruction,” Xinhua reported yesterday. Zhou’s visit wasn’t made public in advance because of security concerns, Xinhua said.
“Zhou’s visit shows China is seriously planning its Afghan strategy for the days after 2014,” said Wang Lian, a professor with the School of International Studies at the Peking University in Beijing. “Almost every great power in history, when they were rising, was deeply involved in Afghanistan, and China will not be an exception.”
The trip comes at a time when U.S.-led NATO forces are leaving Afghanistan after more than a decade of war. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sept. 21 in New Zealand that the U.S. has withdrawn the last of 33,000 so-called “surge” troops from the country. All combating NATO forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Zhou, who is in charge of China’s police and judicial systems, oversees crackdowns on religious extremism and terrorism in China’s northwestern Muslim region.
The biggest pursuit of China’s Afghanistan policy is to maintain stability within its own borders, said Peking University’s Wang, who studies geo-politics in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.
“Afghanistan is vital for China to maintain development and stability in China’s northwestern regions -- that’s the foremost strategic meaning of Afghanistan for China,” he said.
China has no military involvement in Afghanistan and the Chinese government won’t seek a military presence in the country even after the withdrawal of all NATO forces, Wang said, although China’s growing economic power will provide it more leverage in Afghan reconstruction.
Chinese state companies have made resources and energy investments there. China National Petroleum Corp. won an auction in 2011 to develop three blocks in the Amu Darya basin that are estimated to hold 80 million barrels of oil. China shares a 76-kilometer (47-mile) border with Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.
Metallurgical Corp. of China and Jiangxi Copper Co., both state-owned companies, won the rights in 2008 to develop the Aynak copper mine in Afghanistan. The production date of the mine has been repeatedly delayed, partly due to a relic site that was found at the mine. Jiangxi Copper Chairman Li Yihuang said in March that the mine may start operating in 2014-2016.
No Chinese leader had visited Afghanistan since former President Liu Shaoqi in 1966. According to China’s Foreign Ministry, China pulled out all its diplomats from Afghanistan in 1993, and re-opened its embassy in Kabul in 2002 after the Taliban regime was toppled by the NATO-led force. At a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Karzai in Beijing in June, the two countries decided to develop “a strategic and cooperative partnership,” according to Xinhua.
“As the world’s second largest economy and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has to shoulder more responsibilities in Afghanistan,” Wang said.