Canada, its allies on the lookout for how China will fill the western void in Afghanistan – .

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Canada, its allies on the lookout for how China will fill the western void in Afghanistan – .


OTTAWA – With the United States and its allies, Canada included, having left Afghanistan firmly in the hands of the Taliban, another world power is stepping into the void to exert its influence over the ailing country, China.

Analysts predict this could turn the recent political enemy into an unexpected Western ally on a shared priority: fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan and preventing them from threatening neighboring countries.

This is because Afghanistan and China share a small piece of land border that borders China’s Xinjiang Province where Beijing has detained hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs.

Canada and dozens of countries have denounced China at the United Nations for what it sees as systematic abuses against Uyghurs. Human rights activists, politicians and academics gathered in Britain last week for a major conference to discuss what they claim to be genocide perpetrated by Beijing.

China denies the allegations and has vigorously defended its actions in Xinjiang, saying it is trying to eradicate domestic terrorism through re-education efforts.

China does not want to see any infiltration by the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group known as ISIS-K, which staged a suicide bombing at Kabul airport late last month, killing 13 US servicemen and dozens of Afghans.

Cong Peiwu, Chinese Ambassador to Canada, said his country wanted Afghanistan to be on good terms with the international community, especially its neighbors.

“China sincerely hopes that all Afghan parties can echo the enthusiastic aspirations of the Afghan people and the common expectation of the international community: to build an open and inclusive political structure, to adopt moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, to clearly break with terrorist organizations in all their forms, ”Cong said in an interview.

Relations between China and the United States are at an all-time low for a number of reasons. China’s aggressive military provocations and its claims to the vast waters of the South China Sea have angered regional neighbors and Washington.

Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and ethnic Muslim Uyghurs has also exposed the Chinese government to widespread international condemnation, including from Canada, that it violates the human rights of a vulnerable group.

“The number one priority is to prevent terrorist groups from spilling over into China, connecting them through Xinjiang,” said Paul Evans, a Chinese expert at the University of British Columbia.

“We have had a common agenda with China since September 11, but in practical terms it was not overly developed. “

The al-Qaida terrorist group used Afghanistan to stage the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, but was routed along with the then Taliban government by US-led forces.

Canada joined with its US-led NATO allies in combating the resurgence of Kandahar-based Al Qaeda in 2006, and withdrew its military completely from the country in 2014. There was 158 Canadian servicemen and seven civilians who died in Afghanistan.

“When I served in Afghanistan, China certainly had an interest and it was not at all hostile,” said Ben Rowswell, Canada’s top political representative in Kandahar just over ten years ago.

China’s primary interest in Afghanistan at the time was primarily economic, which included an interest in a copper mine. “They were relatively happy to see someone else providing security for the Afghan state,” he said.

Today, said Rowswell, China has “massively exaggerated the threat of political Islam within its borders” and it need not worry about an infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan. .

“I would expect there to be hard times ahead for the Uyghurs as the Chinese crack down even further out of fear, out of the perception that there might be some sort of threat,” Rowswell said, now. Chairman of the Canadian International Council think tank. .

Bessma Momani, an international affairs specialist at the University of Waterloo, said the fact that the Taliban sent their second in command to Beijing for a meeting in late July sends a clear signal that they want friendly relations with China.

“The Taliban have actually made it clear that they have no interest in fighting China or sympathizing with the Uyghurs in any way,” she said.

But without a diplomatic footprint on the ground, it will be difficult for Canada to monitor the effectiveness of its three-year, $ 270 million foreign aid spending commitment to international organizations operating in Afghanistan, Momani said.

“For us, the big question is: are we going to continue to have a foreign aid program there?

Momani and other analysts also reject a growing school of thought that China is interested in pursuing new economic interests in Afghanistan, whether it’s their old copper mine or trying to tap the potential of rare earth minerals from the country.

“When you look at it, China is playing a pretty conservative game. They want to get a return on their investment, ”said Ian Johnson, a native of Montreal and senior researcher in Chinese studies at the American Council on Foreign Relations.

“Yes, there are natural resources. But it is difficult to extract them from the ground and bring them to China, as other countries have known in the past. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 5, 2021.

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