How China and Russia May Attempt to Replace U.S. in Afghanistan as Biden Withdraws

Ghazni, Afghanistan— Soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan National Army’s 203rd Corps assemble for a recognition ceremony for Operation Maiwand. The operation was initiated and planned by the Afghan National Army and was carried out with the help of the ANP and Task Force Fury. Together they conducted security and military operations and delivered humanitarian aid in Ghazni Province to gain support from the Afghan people. (U.S. Navy Photo/ Petty Officer First Class David M. Votroubek)

CCP-led China has been critical of the U.S. role in Afghanistan from the beginning of its intervention in 2001, even as it benefited from America’s two decades-long ‘strategic distraction’ which allowed China to grow dramatically. To Beijing, noted China analyst Yun Sun in War on the Rocks in May, “the war has long deviated from its original goal of counter-terrorism and morphed into a plan to control the heart of Eurasia and China’s backyard.”

And now the sudden U.S. withdrawal by President Biden is adding growing chaos to the mix. Chaos which might require, or allow, Chinese intervention. This could be done alone through the United Nations, or with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

On June 21, the South China Morning Post reported:

The growing violence has raised fears for Beijing that instability and terrorism could spill over into its borders, including into the neighbouring Xinjiang region, where China has been accused of repression of Uygurs and other Muslim-majority ethnic minority groups. 

It could also threaten Chinese development projects under Beijing’s infrastructure investment strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing indicated this month that it wanted to “substantially expand” its projects under the initiative, including in Afghanistan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan in June that the accelerated withdrawal of US troops posed a “challenge” to Afghanistan, but could be beneficial for the country’s long-term security. 

Wang also said China supported talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators, and noted that the Beijing-Russian-led SCO could play a bigger role in the peace process.

So, how might China respond? Returning to the piece in War on the Rocks, Sun added:

In the worst-case scenario that an organic political reconciliation fails and that all the regional frameworks are unable to bring about a solution, China would likely reach out to the United Nations, including asking for a potential U.N. intervention, to stabilize Afghanistan. The recent message from Chinese analysts about China potentially sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan “under the terms of U.N. Charter if the security situation in the South Asian country poses a threat to Xinjiang after American troops pull out” is a signal and a testing of the waters in this regard.

It is entirely conceivable that China’s own security presence along the border — and even inside Afghanistan under the banner of bilateral cooperation — will intensify. In recent years, evidence of these activities include China helping Afghanistan patrol the Wakhan Corridor and the widely reported arrest of a Chinese intelligence network in Afghanistan this past January.

China would like to incorporate Afghanistan into the Belt and Road Initiative, or even  make it an organic addition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This proposal was first made in 2017 and in the past year has seen “encouraging signs” as Afghanistan re-export trade through the Gwadar port in Pakistan commenced in 2020. China understands that economic development in Afghanistan and regional integration will remain challenging after the U.S. withdraws. Nevertheless, this is a policy objective that Beijing will likely continue to pursue.

Then there is the SCO. Using the SCO as a vehicle for China in Afghanistan was first touted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The idea was then suggested again a week later in a June 27 piece in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) – “Could Shanghai Cooperation Organisation help stabilise Afghanistan after US pull-out?”

“Led by China and Russia and created in 2001, the SCO also includes India, Pakistan and four other former Soviet republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It has four observer states – Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus and Iran – and six dialogue partners.”

“Instability resulting from the American withdrawal may force the group to intervene in some form,” writes the author.

As a Eurasian security grouping focusing on ‘anti-terrorism cooperation,’ member states have conducted multiple joint military exercises, and this could see a way for both China and Russia to gain added security influence in a weakened, post-U.S. Afghanistan.

Of course, Russia’s commanding role in the SCO raises historical concerns.

“Any intervention by the security grouping, which is led by Russia and China, would be ‘totally different from the Soviet invasion’, diplomatic observers say,” according to SCMP. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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glenn edward davis
glenn edward davis
4 months ago

Putin evidently is a history denier.

Gene Ralno
Gene Ralno
4 months ago

A big difference between the U.S. and China regarding willingness to make war is the willingness to lose people. Under that consideration, China wins. But wait…far more of the earth’s population may be willing to resist communism regardless of the cost.

Elizabeth Estrada aka CHIAKIA

LISTEN UP….If CHINA and RUSSIA wan t to TAKE ON the TERRORISTS….LET THEM. ALL the BULLIES Can DUKE it OUT and SEE Who is the BIGGEST BADASS BULLY of THEM ALL. WINNER Takes ALL. From SamuraiQueen. 😄😄😄

Jawad
Jawad
4 months ago

Putin has a short memory. Actually, armies since Alexander the Great have historically foundered in Afghanistan. The Devil’s people in a Devil’s terrain gave the British a Devil of a time, and the Soviets a Devilish nightmare.

Ken Collins
4 months ago

Russia tried it once. It’s China’s turn…….same results.

Keith Clark
Keith Clark
4 months ago

Good, nothing there but goats and drugs.

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Vic
Vic
4 months ago

Hmmm, as a Afghanistan veteran, Russia taking over in Afghanistan is akin to us taking over in Mexico, laughable!

I was embedded with the Polish for about 2 months in Afghanistan (good guys by the way!), they were taking responsibility for Ghazni province when we were RIP’ing out. The Afghan military battalion I was embedded in didn’t even want to talk with them for the first 2 weeks because they looked like Russians, they had BMPs and Hinds when they came in, the look on the Afghans faces 1st time seeing a Hind fly over was interesting!

John
John
4 months ago

Russia already got it’s ass kicked in Afghanistan…I don’t think they want to go there again..however..it would be swell to sit back and watch the Chinese get their asses handed to them over there


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