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What might China's policy toward Afghanistan be after the U.S. drawdown in 2014?

Question submitted by Monish Gulati, April 3, 2013

Answered by: Colonel Brian M. Killough, USAF, Military Fellow, U.S. Air Force

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China has diverse interests in Afghanistan, including extracting resources and promoting regional stability. But China's future policy toward Afghanistan will largely depend on whether there is a valid election and credible government in Kabul after the planned U.S. drawdown in 2014.

If the Afghan government is able to maintain a weak but relatively stable state, China will continue to see Afghanistan as an area to invest in as it pursues resources and regional influence. China has already made several large investments in Afghanistan (e.g., China signed a contract to exploit the copper mines east of Kabul). Additionally, China has a strong relationship with Pakistan and does not want Afghanistan to threaten the fragile stability there, particularly in light of Pakistan's own upcoming elections in 2013.

If, however, the Taliban return to power after 2014 due to the Afghan government's lack of credibility, the situation would be much more complex for China. While Pakistan would work to keep the Taliban as a weak proxy power on its western border, the situation could become troublesome for China if it boiled over into a more aggressive uprising from the mainly Sunni Muslims (mostly Uighur) in western China. China would likely still try to exploit resources in Afghanistan, but that goal could be complicated by lawlessness or a break in relations due to a Uighur conflict.