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China’s Role in Afghanistan, with Belt and Road, Drives U.S. Establishment Figures Nuts

Aug. 18, 2021 (EIRNS)—The very thought of China playing a positive role in Afghanistan, through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is driving some members of the U.S. political and financial establishment off the deep end. An Aug. 17 article in Forbes and another by CNBC on the same date, conjure up scenarios of China greedily exploiting Afghanistan’s 1.4 million tons of rare-earth minerals, to the detriment of the West, while engaging the country in several key BRI infrastructure projects, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Forbes’s panicked author Ariel Cohen, warns that the U.S.’s loss of credibility and “geostrategic leverage” after its 20-year fiasco in Afghanistan and “precipitous” departure, now means that “insidious actors,” including Russia and China, as well as North Korea and Iran, can cause problems in the region without U.S. interference.

With the rise of the Taliban, Cohen laments, “the energy infrastructure and natural resources of the region are now more in jeopardy than ever since 2001,” because China is preparing to move in with massive investments. In fact, he says, Russia and China are eying “lucrative development projects that boost their regional ambitions.” The “big prize” in Afghanistan is its 1.4 million tons of rare-earth elements (REE), which are crucial for the production of renewable energy technology.

“This makes Afghanistan a prime target of investment for China, the current king of global REE supply chains. America needs rare earths and China controls 90% of processing capacity.” CNBC quotes Shamaila Khan, a director of emerging market debt at AllianceBernstein, who told the network’s Squawk Box Asia that the possibility that Afghanistan’s minerals could be exploited by the Chinese is a “very dangerous proposition for the world.”

China is already involved in Afghanistan through the Belt and Road Initiative, which Cohen says is welcomed by the Taliban “who have invited China to play a role in economic development.” China has already invested a great deal of capital in infrastructure projects under the aegis of the BRI in the region, he reports, and “there’s no reason to believe the Taliban would want to interrupt Belt and Road programs already underway.” In fact, Cohen frets, Afghanistan and China have “in principle” agreed to deepen BRI cooperation, despite uncertainty over the security situation. The key, he says, will be the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, “that will involve Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as well.” Cohen details several other BRI projects in the region but says they are “at risk” because of the Taliban takeover, lack of security, etc., going on to predict other dangerous scenarios that might develop that would encourage China and Russia to become more aggressive in pursuit of their regional goals.

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