“The Chinese contribution (to Afghanistan) is
as important as that of Western troops.”
— A quote from Mohammad Yalaqi, the Afghan Minister of Commerce and Industry to Tini Tran of the Associated Press on July 4, 2010, for the story:
“As US fights, China spends to gain Afghan foothold.”
It should stun the American public to discover that some Afghan officials place Chinese commercial ties on an equal par with ten years of American military and reconstruction efforts.
On July 5, 2010, Senator John McCain, speaking in Afghanistan, stated: “If we succeed there (Kandahar) we will succeed in the rest of this struggle.” The reality is that Afghans may credit China for any defeat of the Taliban. It is disquieting that the American Embassy in Kabul is losing a little-known propaganda war over who is helping the Afghans the most.
In contrast, the Chinese Embassy in Kabul is waging a brilliant campaign to advance its interests. Almost as significant, it is waging its war so skillfully that American diplomats are seemingly oblivious to the Chinese efforts. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell traveled to Beijing in October 2009, to urge China to assist and invest in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, when the Associated Press interviewed State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid, he praised China’s efforts in Afghanistan!
China is not merely winning the propaganda war. It is keeping a low public profile in Afghanistan, which keeps Muslim militant efforts focused on the very visible American military presence.
While the United States Government spends an estimated $1 billion a day in Afghanistan and, more importantly, places its men and women in uniform in the line of fire, the country that benefits the most from that effort appears to be China. If the Americans and their NATO allies were not fighting and dying in Afghanistan, Chinese military forces would likely have to be deployed. The Beijing government seems happy to have the West take over its military responsibilities. As the Taliban and al-Qaeda focus on battling the very visible Western forces, China officials work behind the scenes preparing to benefit in the long-term from the primarily American effort. The headline in the July 4, 2010, edition of the Jakarta Globe read:
“China wins hearts and contracts in Kabul.”
China is not merely winning the propaganda war and pushing the Americans into the spotlight as the focus of Muslim militants, it is profiting financially.
In 2007, China Metallurgical Group (CMG) won a massive contract to mine copper at the Aynak site in Logar Province, Afghanistan, which has copper resources worth an estimated $30 billion. The Afghan government chose CMG over the U.S. mining company Phelps Dodge.
China Railway Construction Group/China Railway Shisiju Group has won a number of major Afghan government contracts. China Railway is the successor to No. 4 Division - Railway Corps. of the Peoples Liberation Army. It is apparently a military-owned construction group.
Likewise, Chinese companies, such as ZTE, dominate the Afghan cable and fiber optic market. Ironically, it is the Chinese that bring the world to ordinary Afghans. Chinese electronic games, devices and gear dominate the Afghan consumer electronic market, and China competes primarily with Pakistan for dominance in the remainder of the Afghan retail markets.
Afghan consumers view China and its products as improving their daily lives. In contrast, the American military’s efforts represent a more intangible and distant benefit at best. To some, it is not a benefit at all. It is the American military that trains and “graduates” the notoriously corrupt Afghan police and Afghan courts. Part of that corruption is due to the accelerated training program aimed at increasing the quantity of Afghan security forces, seemingly regardless of their quality. This rushed training effort is short-sighted and counter-productive. The American mentors of the corrupt police and judges cannot but be assigned a share of responsibility by ordinary Afghans for the corruption of their proteges. Throughout it all China stays above the fray occupying the high ground as a positive benefactor to the Afghan people.
According to National Public Radio’s Anthony Kuhn, for his story appearing on October 21, 2009,
“A common criticism is that while U.S. troops risk their lives
in Afghanistan, it is Chinese companies that
reap the economic benefits.”
This author has repeatedly called for the dismissal of American Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and his senior staff. It is an insult to the American troops in Afghanistan to have their valiant efforts undermined by the imaginative efforts by Chinese diplomats who are outmaneuvering their seemingly hapless American counterparts.