Final Blog Post: History Behind, and Motivations for Current Chinese Diplomacy with Afghanistan

After lots of research and writing, my paper on Chinese motivations behind recent diplomatic efforts with Afghanistan is finally finished! I am not yet done with the editing process, but I hope to be finished with that by the end of this week.

The entire process was a lot more fluid than I had originally expected. My initial abstract went under constant evolution throughout my research process. As I was researching, I realized that it would be prudent to write more on certain subjects, such as including a general background of China’s foreign relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Taliban since the 1960s. I realized it would be important context to provide so that my conclusions would make more sense. I also discovered that my abstract was originally too broad. I had intended on including a section on the implications recent Sino-Afghan relations have on the United States. However, I realized that including this was completely unrealistic given the research was to be completed in two weeks. Although I’m sure it would have been very interesting to include, the quality of the section would have undoubtedly suffered due to timing constraints.

Below, I will include the abstract to my paper. It provides a summary of all my research and how I presented my findings throughout my paper. Due to aforementioned incomplete revisions, I do not feel comfortable attaching the entire paper. However this abstract will be sufficient for understand what I discovered:

 

Over the past year, the international community has witnessed a renewed effort to facilitate talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Taliban. Unlike past attempts, which were orchestrated largely under American pressure, China is playing a prominent role in the process. This research seeks to synthesis Chinese foreign relations with Afghanistan, from the Soviet-Afghan War through today, and present a causal relationship between Chinese economic policy, ethnic unrest, changing geopolitics, and Beijing’s recent diplomatic push for a stabilized Afghanistan. Although current literature exists on specific components of China’s “Afghanistan focus,” this research presents a comprehensive, causal relationship between all relevant facets of recent Sino-Afghan relations; this is done so in an effort to explain why China has taken the steps it has, how they relate, and why they have culminated in the manner they did.

Since 2000, Chinese policy has emphasized economic expansion within Central Asia, a policy initiative that has placed Xinjiang, China’s western-most province, in a central economic role. Under Beijing’s watch, business growth in Xinjiang has flourished, bringing an influx of ethnic Hans into the historically Uyghur territory.[i] This shifting demography has triggered underlying ethnic tension between the ethnic groups, resulting in a reemergence of Han-Uyghur violence in the late 2000s. Since 2013, this violence has spread beyond Xinjiang’s boarders. China has responded to the violence, which Beijing labels as terrorism, with a two-fold policy: suppress the Uyghur people internally, and remove external outlets for Uyghur militarization, namely Islamic extremist training camps in Afghanistan. Although China violently suppressed the religious liberties of the Uyghurs, extremist Islamic groups have largely ignored China’s actions. This lack of Taliban reaction could be attributed to a combination of Sino-Taliban diplomacy and the United States’ presence as a greater regional enemy. However, in 2011, it became evident the United States would remove their Afghan military presence in the near future.

Chinese economic health and national security depends on a strong Xinjiang free from the instability terrorism initiates. However, America’s departure from the Middle East creates weaknesses in both sides of China’s policy towards Uyghur extremism: an unstable Afghanistan could easily foster the militarization of Uyghur extremists, and the internal suppression of Uyghurs draws ire in extremist groups now unchecked by a greater American enemy. Therefore, Beijing concluded it needed to play a larger diplomatic role in pursuing Afghan stability. This realization clearly corresponded with increased Chinese political activity in Afghanistan, starting in 2011 and 2012. These efforts ultimately culminated in Chinese facilitation of Afghan-Taliban peace talks. Due to China’s history of favorable foreign relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Taliban, the recent round of talks may have more success than the previous US-backed attempt in Qatar 2013. However, the publication of Mullah Omar’s death leaves the future of these talks uncertain.


[i] Both “Uyghur” and “Uighur” are commonly used to describe the ethnically Turkish population of peoples who live primarily in Xinjiang, a province in Western China. I chose to use “Uyghur” throughout this paper, as it is the spelling closest to the true pronunciation. Official Chinese documents and the World Uyghur Congress, a major Uyghur exile group, both use the “Uyghur” spelling as well.