Will China get involved in Afghanistan?

Commentary

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist
Video Library |

When the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan in August, questions began swirling around whether China will head there to reap the resources.  You’ll find your answer by looking at the geography, the terrain, and the infrastructure… or lack of it. Quite simply, it’s an enormous job to get anything in or out of Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean the Chinese will turn their backs on the country. It’s quite the opposite. They need to keep a close watch on exactly what in the world is happening in Afghanistan.

Hello from central Wyoming. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about Afghanistan one last time. There’s been a lot of talk going around about the Chinese being really excited about getting in so they can tap all the mineral resources of the country.   

Um, no, uh, let’s assume for the moment that you believe the numbers that have been tossed around — that there’s two to three trillion dollars worth of ore which is backed by absolutely no meaningful studies or seismic work. There’s still the issue of getting it out now.  Afghanistan from any place in the mountains to any place on the border to then getting to China. You’re talking about an excess of a 2,000-mile trip, plus 2,000 to 3,000 miles across trying to get where you need to go. 

But it’s really that first piece within Afghanistan now.  As those of you who have been following me for a while realize, moving things by land is about ten times as expensive as moving them by water.

And that assumes you have an American-style interstate highway system. 

Now building a single mile of interstate highway costs $10 million to  $20 million a mile.

And that assumes you’re in a relatively flat zone with a local skilled labor pool, there’s petroleum for the asphalt, as well as an efficient tax base and financing to make it all happen. Afghanistan has none of those things.

So there you’re talking to at least a factor of four or five more expensive. 

So you’re talking a cool trillion dollars just to build the basic infrastructure to get into the mountains, get the stuff out, plus the cost of the mines. 

You’re also not processing it anywhere in Afghanistan because, lo and behold, the country does not have a power grid. 

So you’re going to be moving ore in trucks the size of dump trucks until you get to the Chinese border.

No. The infrastructure, just that question alone, um, kind of obviates it. 

It’s just simply easier to move things in from Brazil or Australia, via the water.

Now the only reason that the Chinese do have to be involved in the areas, very simple, they’re concerned about what’s going to happen in the region when the Americans are gone.  As long as the Americans were there, all the local jihadists were focused on the United States, whether it was some offshoot of ISIS, the group that launched the attack on the airport recently, or the Taliban itself. 

But if you remove the Americans, then all of a sudden the local militant groups do one of two things. 

They go after one another, which we’re going to see very soon, or they go after the regional powers for whatever reason they find problematic, that’s Pakistan, that’s India, that’s Russia, that’s China. 

China’s not there because they want to be, they’re going to be there because they feel they have no choice. Kind of like why the U.S. went in, in the first place. Anyway, that’s it for me? See you from another mountain.

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