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The Taliban is sitting on an absolute fortune and China is ready to cash in

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The Taliban may have been cut off from Afghanistan’s international cash reserves. But it’s sitting on a treasure trove of resources desperately needed to combat climate change.

Kabul, the center of government in Afghanistan, fell to Taliban jihadists at the weekend. The incredible speed at which it overwhelmed 20 years of Western attempts at “nation-building” shocked the world. Beijing is ready to step into the vacuum.

This week, China’s Foreign Ministry called upon the world to “respect the choice of the Afghan people”. It’s an interesting choice of words. “The Afghan Taliban has expressed several times that they hope to develop good relations with China, expect China to participate in their rebuilding and development, and will never allow any forces to use Afghanistan’s territory to harm China,” the spokeswoman added. “We welcome that.”

But, as with the wars in Iraq and Syria, there’s more going on beneath the surface. In the case of Afghanistan, it potentially offers China an overland link to the vital oilfields of Iran. Mountainous terrain makes transport incredibly difficult, but piped oil could reduce Beijing’s fears of keeping its tankers traversing the Malacca Straits.

Equally important are mineral reserves of iron, nickel, copper, and gold. These largely untapped resources are potentially an alternative to distant – and non-compliant – suppliers such as Australia. Mostly, however, it’s about rare earth minerals. This includes lanthanum (used in bright lights), cerium (polishing and self-cleaning ovens), and neodymium (small magnets).

Just three countries produce more than 75 percent of the world’s supply of lithium, cobalt, and other rare-earth. They are China, Congo, and Australia. One nation controls 90 per cent of the world’s rare earth processing capability: China. Beijing has already been using this market dominance in its trade wars with the West.

Rare opportunity

Geologists believe Afghanistan may hold the world’s largest deposits of lithium. This, along with nickel and cobalt, are crucial for modern rechargeable batteries. Altogether, estimates place their value at anywhere between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. Such rare minerals underpin efforts to use technology to reverse climate change.

Mining activity is limited in the troubled mountain nation. It does contribute some $US1 billion ($1.4 billion) to the Afghan economy each year. However, analysts say some 30 to 40 percent of that is lost to corruption and warlord “protection” rackets.

A Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project was suspended in the 1990s with the rise of the Taliban. Work only restarted in 2018. Now, the major infrastructure project is in doubt again. An international network of hydroelectric power is in peril, as is an Uzbekistan-Pakistan-Kabul-Peshawar railway link. But Beijing’s state-controlled corporations aren’t answerable to shareholders.

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About author
Tristan McCue is a 26-year-old junior programmer who enjoys reading, binge-watching boxed sets, and appearing in the background on TV. He is smart and friendly, but can also be very evil and a bit lazy.He is an Australian Christian. He has a post-graduate degree in computing.
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