August 20, 2021 – Stealth War 51: Beijing and the Taliban; Diplomatic Outreach to Middle East; Energy and Transportation Bids; Further Crackdown; New Coal Mines

By: Jamestown Foundation

Fri August, 2021, Age: 2 years


August 20, 2021

Welcome to the Stealth War Newsletter, a collection of the top 5 recent news items, collected on The Jamestown Foundation’s new website, To continue to receive this weekly collection, click the button below to subscribe.  

Strategic Indicator
6.4% and 8.5%
This issue’s number to watchThe growth of China’s industrial output and retail sales, respectively, in July. Both figures came in lower than expected, sparking fears that China’s economic recovery is slowing amid ongoing pandemic shocks to global supply chains, government regulatory crackdowns and high raw material and energy prices.

This Week:

When Will Beijing Recognize the Taliban?  

* China Stepping Up Diplomatic Outreach to Middle East in Wake of Taliban Victory

* BRI Roundup – Chinese Energy and Transportation Bids Boost Bilateral Ties with Russia, Philippines

* Xi Signals Further Crackdown on the Wealthy and Tech Companies

Despite Climate Change Warnings, China Approves New Coal Mines

Top Stories

(source: Xinhua)

When Will Beijing Recognize the Taliban? 

On Monday August 16, a day after the Taliban completed their takeover of Kabul, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked during a press conference if Beijing would recognize a Taliban-led Afghan government. Hua replied, “We are ready to continue to develop good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in Afghanistan’s peace and reconstruction,” but then added, “We hope the Afghan Taliban can form solidarity with all factions and ethnic groups in Afghanistan and build a broad-based and inclusive political structure suited to the national realities,” indicating that Beijing’s path to recognizing the new power in Kabul may be more complicated than it appears. That formal recognition would not be coming immediately to the Taliban was further confirmed Wednesday as spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “It is customary international practice that the recognition of a government comes after its formation.”

This back and forth elicits the question of when will the Chinese government recognize the Taliban regime? China holds small but significant interests in Afghanistan, connected as that country is to the stability of neighboring Pakistan, home to approximately $60 billion worth of Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investment. Chinese companies are anxious to develop some of Afghanistan’s under-utilized natural resources, including metal deposits and rare earth minerals. Chinese actors have noted such opportunities this week, with one former vice minister of the Ministry of Commerce noting on August 17 that “Chinese companies entering the Afghan market at this time are best situated for win-win cooperation.” Despite such hopes, the comments by Hua and Zhao indicate that Beijing remains concerned that Taliban control will create instability in the region. China’s fears of Islamist extremism among its Uyghur population in its northwestern Xinjiang province—which borders Afghanistan—has deepened in recent years as the government has pursued a heavy-handed crackdown on its Muslim minorities.

Ultimately, China will continue to engage with the Taliban and will likely recognize the government the movement eventually forms. Ideally for Beijiing, this government would include enough opposition figures and representatives of Afghanistan’s minority groups to maintain some semblance of credibility and stability. If the Taliban is unable to consolidate its position and maintain buy-in from enough of the country’s contentious factions, it is likely that a new civil war will break out. Such a scenario would require a higher degree of Chinese involvement than has been seen before, and thus is a situation that Beijing will diligently seek to avoid.

(source: Global Times)

China Stepping Up Diplomatic Outreach to Middle East in Wake of Taliban Victory

China’s diplomatic leaders have engaged in a whirlwind of calls across the region following the unexpectedly rapid fall of Kabul on Sunday. On August 17, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken discussed how the two countries could work together to achieve a “soft landing” in Afghanistan, with Wang noting that Beijing was willing to cooperate only if the U.S. agreed to step back on its pressure campaign against China. In a separate call on the same day, Wang and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov pledged to boost bilateral relations and work together to protect both countries’ interests in Afghanistan. In that earlier conversation, Chinese state media also reported that Wang had said “it has been the international consensus that this ending has its inner logic and inevitability, and proves that military intervention and hegemony are unpopular and doomed to fail.” On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with his counterparts in Iran and Iraq. State media reports did not note any references to the situation in Afghanistan, but instead reported that Xi and his fellow leaders had reaffirmed their mutual support for deepening economic ties as well as countering hegemonism and foreign interference. Also on Wednesday, Wang placed a phone call to his Pakistani and Turkish counterparts to discuss the Afghan situation directly.

As well as seeking to position China as a regional power broker and mediator in the transition, China also took opportunities to dig at the U.S. In his call with Pakistan, Wang Yi noted that the crisis showed that “democratic transformation” was unrealistic. Chinese state media were also quick to score cheap political points, making far-fetched analogies between the “Afghan abandonment” and the U.S.’ ambiguous security commitments to Taiwan, concluding that Taiwanese authorities “[must know] better in secret that the U.S. is not reliable.”

BRI Roundup

Chinese Energy and Transportation Bids Boost Bilateral Ties with Russia, Philippines

Russian media reported on August 10 that the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) recently won a contract to develop a $265 million transshipment facility in Bechevinsky Bay, Kamchatka, issued by the Russian LNG company Novatek. The facility is intended to help transfer liquified natural gas (LNG) shipments from ice-class tankers coming along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to conventional vessels supplying Asian markets. Although the project is scheduled to be completed in 2023, industry experts have observed that due to harsh weather and other difficulties, it could likely be delayed. Once completed, the project would increase Russian energy links with China (decreasing its dependence on European markets) as well as promote the commercialization of the NSR. Russia and China earlier this year pledged greater cooperation on deepening cooperation in the Arctic and in particular strengthening collaboration on the use of the NSR “on the basis of mutual benefit and respect for the interests of the littoral state (i.e., Russia).”

In the Philippines, recent news of a winning Chinese bid to manage the $1.6 billion first phase of a long-anticipated rail project on Mindanao island came just after the government of President Rodrigo Duterte retracted a pending termination of the Philippines-United States Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a year and a half after first threatening to do so. Both events are anticipated to shore up Duterte’s legacy as the country prepares for a May 2022 presidential election. Although prohibited from re-election as president, Duterte has signalled that he may seek the vice-presidency alongside his daughter, Sara Duterte, currently the mayor of Davao City on Mindanao island. While the VFA renewal has shored up the Philippines long-standing and domestically popular security ties with the U.S., Duterte has often been vocal in his resentment of Washington and sought to align himself closer with Beijing. The Mindanao railway is particularly significant for him; Duterte campaigned heavily during the 2016 presidential election on his promise to develop a system of rail projects in Mindanao within six years. The Chinese joint venture between China Railway Design and Guangzhou Wanan Construction Supervision beat out two other contestants from an all-Chinese shortlist for the contract, demonstrating the strong influence of Chinese investment in Philippines infrastructure. The government hopes to have the first line enter service in June 2023, with later lines expected to circuit the entire island.

(source: China Daily)

Xi Signals Further Crackdown on the Wealthy and Tech Companies 

Chinese President Xi Jinping described “common prosperity” as an “essential requirement of socialism” at a meeting of the leading financial working group on Tuesday. An official readout later stated that “high-income people and enterprises” should give more resources back to society, building off of the government’s efforts to emphasize the quality rather than quantity of economic growth. Unequal wealth distribution is a major concern in China, and it is likely that new regulations will need to be implemented to define and achieve the goal of “common prosperity.”

Such regulations would come amid an ongoing crackdown against technology companies. Beijing is tightening regulations across a range of industries, with a particular emphasis on privacy and data. For example, on Wednesday the Chinese government issued warnings to 43 apps, including WeChat for illegal data transfer practices and ordered the companies to make rectifications. In addition to tightening regulatory control, the Chinese government has been acquiring ownership stakes in technology companies and increasing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s influence in the private sector. Most recently, it was reported that the Chinese government had taken an ownership stake in a subsidiary of Bytedance, the Beijing-based company that also owns the popular app TikTok. This has increased concerns about the Chinese party-state’s access to foreign data, which is increasingly being viewed as a national security resource. At home, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Friday passed a new data security law, which is expected to impose some of the world’s strictest privacy regulations. Nevertheless, national security exceptions seen in previous drafts echo carve outs seen in other parts of China’s growing data security regime that do little to offset concerns about the government’s abuses of state surveillance and information collection.

(source: Global Times)

Despite Climate Change Warnings, China Approves New Coal Mines

On August 4, China published its Blue Book on Climate Change outlining the impact of climate change, with increasing extreme weather events worldwide. China itself faces alarming consequences from climate change, according to the Blue Book. China’s annual average temperature rose by 0.26℃ per decade on average from 1951 to 2020, while sea level rose in 2020 by 73 mm compared to the average amount recorded from 1993 to 2011. The Blue Book’s warnings come as extreme weather becomes increasingly frequent both in China and around the world. This year alone, China has seen extreme flooding in central regions; over 300 people died after historic flooding in Henan Province in late July and last week 21 people were killed in floods in Hubei Province. While China has pursued several policies to tackle climate change, including starting the world’s largest carbon trading program earlier this summer, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has also called for reassessing current decarbonization efforts due to development and stability concerns. NDRC spokesperson Meng Wei pointed at overly ambitious goals and disorganized strategies that caused project shutdowns in the name of carbon reduction, leading to unstable commodity prices, especially amid a post-Covid economic boom.

The NDRC and the National Energy Administration have also jointly approved the construction of 15 new coal mines. The mines will be located in Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Xinjiang, and are projected to produce 43.5 million tons annually. The development of the mines is consistent with Xi Jinping’s national coal consumption strategy, which allows for coal consumption to increase from 2021–2025 and decrease onward. While climate change concerns are dire, China has also struggled to meet energy demand from its developing economy, resulting in its continued reliance on coal amid natural disasters and other issues that have caused repeated power outages this summer.

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