The visit by the Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak to China and his talks with the Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie in Beijing earlier today, Tuesday, will signify the shift to a new level in the military cooperation between the two countries. Liang is also a state councilor.
According to a Xinhua report, Liang said at the meeting with Wardak, “The military-to-military exchanges are increasing, the high-level interactions are going on and the pragmatic cooperation in terms f personnel training and military aid… are going ahead in a stable way.”
He then added, “The Chinese side is willing to cement and enhance the current cooperation between the two militaries based on mutual respect and win-win reciprocity to advance the military ties in a sustainable way.” Liang said said the China and Afghanistan should play an active role in safeguarding their national interests as well as regional security and stability. [Emphasis added.]
The Chinese pledge of enhanced cooperation, “mutual respect and win-win reciprocity” comes at a time when China’s economic interests in Afghanistan are deepening (with Chinese companies hoping to pick up some big projects) and the Western drawdown of troops is set to accelerate (which introduces uncertainties in the security climate). The raison d’etre of increased cooperation has been noted in terms of national interests and regional security and stability.
What new directions China-Afghan military cooperation would exactly take have not been spelt out. China already provides training for the Afghan armed forces. There is also a limited deployment of Chinese forces to provide security for Chinese assets in Afghanistan.
Liang’s remarks underscore that China is obviously not deterred that its stepping up of military cooperation with the Afghan armed forces might antagonize the Taliban. Indeed, a bigger Chinese role in Afghanistan will be welcomed by the United States and NATO. Conceivably, Afghanistan would have figured in the high-level talks with the Chinese leadership by the visiting US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, although the focus would be on the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen was notably upbeat on China’s strong engagement in Afghanistan, especially a political role “facilitating a process where Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, engage positively in finding a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.”
China is not hitching its Afghan wagons to Russia’s or waiting for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s agenda toward the post-2014 scenario to take shape. It is instead going ahead on its own. One advantage in doing so would be that China could develop positive impetus for the overall Sino-American relationship by cooperating with the US-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. What emerges out of the Liang-Wardak talks is the Chinese willingness to play a bigger role in Afghan security in the uncertain period ahead.
– July 24, 2012