The Role of Afghanistan in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and China’s Policy on Afghanistan

Speech by CIIS President Qi Zhenhong at the 7th “Herat Security Dialogue”

It is a great pleasure to be here. First of all, please allow me to extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Davood Moradian and his team from the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies(AISS) for inviting me to attend this Dialogue and also for their thoughtful arrangements. The Herat Security Dialogue now enjoys growing influence and has evolved into an important platform for all relevant parties to exchange views on issues such as peace, cooperation and nation building that are important for Afghanistan’s future.

I would like to start by saying that Afghanistan has a long history and has formed a unique and splendid civilization. Afghan people are very kind, wise and hardworking. What I have seen here for myself is in a striking contrast to the image of Afghanistan portrayed in some Western media, and I am quite optimistic about Afghanistan’s future.

Thanks to its natural geographical proximity and long-time people-to-people exchanges, Afghanistan was a key part of the ancient land-based Silk Road, and our two peoples forged close and friendly relations. The outstanding Chinese diplomat and explorer Zhang Qian living in the 2nd Century BC during China’s Western Han Dynasty was one of the pioneers who blazed the trail for the ancient Silk Road and he is the first Chinese known to have engaged in official exchanges between China and Afghanistan.

As we all know, five years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI), as they are now collectively known. Now this Initiative has gradually evolved from planning to practice and from vision to reality. It has made progress and achievements beyond expectations and has won an enlarged circle of friends. President Xi said in his opening remarks at the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in 2017 that “for wild geese to weather through storms and fly steady and far, the key to success lies in their relying on each other’s strength by flying together.” This analogy is a vivid depiction of the spiritual core of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is more a choir of participating countries than a solo by China alone.

So far, a total of more than 100 countries and international organizations have expressed their support for the Initiative and over 40 economies and international organizations have signed related cooperation agreements with China. Batches of influential pilot projects have been kick-started.

As a transportation hub connecting Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia, Afghanistan is a significant juncture within China's Belt and Road Initiative. And thus Afghanistan has unique geographic advantages and huge potential for development. Afghanistan has been consistently supporting the Initiative and it is expected to board China’s express train of development with its participation. In May 2016, China and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding on the BRI, which aims to foster cooperation in various areas including policy coordination, infrastructure development, energy cooperation, and trade and investment facilitation. China and Afghanistan are now cooperating to develop the Belt and Road, and have achieved positive results in such key areas as policy communication, facility connectivity, trade facilitation, financial cooperation and people-to-people exchanges.

The host province of this Dialogue, Herat, is an important economic, cultural and transportation center in West Afghanistan, and serves as a key hub for many regional connectivity projects. The province of Herat is actively expanding exports of its competitive goods such as marble and saffron by means of the Belt and Road Initiative, and trying to attract more direct investment from China.

Here I would like to mention that the 71st General Assembly of United Nations has unanimously passed Resolution A/71/9 on the issue of Afghanistan. The Resolution appealed to the international community to further consolidate consensus on assistance to Afghanistan, and provide Afghanistan with aid in political, economic and security areas; it welcomed economic cooperation initiatives including the Belt and Road Initiative, urged all relevant parties to help boost economic development in Afghanistan and the wider region through the Initiative, and appealed to the international community to provide a secure environment for the development of the Belt and Road.

As a traditional friendly neighbour to Afghanistan, China will continue to play its role as a major responsible country and take firm action to uphold Afghanistan’s peace process and national reconstruction.

As far as I am concerned, China’s policy towards Afghanistan advocates “four firm supports” namely:

1. Firmly supporting Afghanistan’s political reconciliation.

The inclusive reconciliation process of “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” is the only path to realize lasting peace and development in Afghanistan. Therefore, the Chinese side will continue to support this process, and we hope the Kabul Process will continue to contribute its efforts. In addition, China advocates for the agreements to be reached between the Afghan government and the anti-government parties, including the Afghan Taliban, so as to initiate the process of peace. China also calls for operations in accordance with relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly to be conducted by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States to promote the realization of peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at an early date.

2. Firmly supporting Afghanistan’s peace and reconstruction.

China will, through its own approaches, continue to support the Afghan government in strengthening its capabilities, support state reconstruction and finally, lead Afghanistan to the path of independent development. Since 2002, China has assisted several engineering projects in Afghanistan and trained over 800 talents annually within multiple areas. Also, China has worked together with the United States and India to host training projects for Afghan diplomats. I believe that in the future, China and Afghanistan will work hand in hand to implement the China-Afghanistan Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) on Jointly Pushing Forward the “Belt and Road” Construction and enhance bilateral cooperation in areas such as the economy and trade, energy resources and infrastructure construction. Afghanistan's independent choice of political system and development path should be widely respected. We anticipate that political parties within Afghanistan could bridge their differences to jointly promote national development. Meanwhile, in order to counter terrorism and transnational crimes such as drugs smuggling, the Chinese side will keep coordinating within the international society, enhancing the capacity building of Afghan National Security Forces for national security and strengthening Afghanistan’s self-defense and anti-terrorism capabilities.

3. Firmly supporting Afghanistan-Pakistan mutual understanding and cooperation.

Since the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue held by China for the first time in September 2017, China has hosted the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Vice Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue as well as the Trilateral Vice-Ministerial Consultation on Counter-Terrorism and Security in May 2018. This shows China has been zealous in promoting discussions to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan properly and is always willing to reinforce the trilateral cooperation to cope with challenges posed by terrorism and extremism with shared efforts.

4. Firmly supporting Afghanistan’s integration into regional development.

In accordance with the resolutions of the UN General Assembly, China is determined to improve the economic cooperation and interconnectivity in this region and facilitate Afghanistan’s integration into the regional trend of development through the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative. In May 2018, China conducted a vice-ministerial meeting of the SCO Afghanistan Liaison Group in Beijing. And in early June, President Ghani, as the leader of the observer state, attended the 18th Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Qingdao,China’s Shandong Province. These activities are intended to further Afghanistan’s integration into the tide of regional development and the cooperation under the framework of SCO.

To sum up, Afghanistan is at a crucial phase where triple transformation of politics, economy and security is ongoing. Under cooperation frameworks such as the Belt and Road Initiative, China will remain firm in enhancing practical cooperation with Afghanistan and providing further assistance for its peace and reconstruction within its capacity so as to deepen and consolidate our bilateral strategic partnership. I firmly believe the dust on the“Shining Pearl”of the ancient Silk Road will be wiped out for the benefit of our two peoples and contribution to the peace and prosperity of this entire region.

Qi Zhenhong is currently President of the China Institute of International Studies

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The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS