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How is China contributing to peace efforts in Afghanistan? Should they be prompted to take more action?
LONDON, U.K. — You know, I don't like to worry an idea to death, but I feel like I need to reiterate ideas from a column two weeks ago. In that column I noted the irony that while America and its European allies endure a moment of perilous self-doubt about their economies and the strength of their political systems against a backdrop of war in Afghanistan, China is reaping the benefits of economic expansion unfettered by extra military spending.
The two strands of that story came face to face exactly a week ago. Afghan President Hamid Karzai went to China and met President Hu Jintao. The pair signed three trade agreements. Details of the agreements were not provided. No surprise there, transparency is not something that either government makes a virtue.
You probably didn't read about the Karzai-Hu meeting. A check of The New York Times website doesn't show a record of an article on the subject. The Washington Post website shows a report from Reuters previewing the visit but no follow-up.
Friday the news on China was all about U.S. President Barack Obama's long phone call with Hu, urging him to support sanctions on Iran, but most of the reporting on China as of late has been about Google withdrawing from the People's Republic. The Afghanistan news was continued spin down related to the earlier visit of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad to Kabul at the invitation of Karzai. Even now, that continues to be the focus of news analysis and commentary coming out of Afghanistan.
Earlier this week The New York Times ran an excellent article about the difficulties of dealing with Karzai. In it an anonymous senior official is quoted, “We’re trying to find this balance of keeping pressure on him, without setting up bluffs that can be called.”
Is any of this pressure related to trade deals with China? The corruption surrounding the Karzai government has been thoroughly reported here at GlobalPost and in many other places. America, its allies and the United Nations are all involved in efforts to force the Afghan government to clean up its act. But the trade deals with China beg the question: To what degree are these agreements open to scrutiny?
It might be seen as infringement of Afghan national sovereignty but shouldn't the U.S. have some input into how these trade agreements are formulated? Who is fooling whom here? The Afghan government exists in its present form because the U.S. overthrew the Taliban and continues to pour men and money into the country to stabilize the regime.
Shouldn't the U.S. government have a right to make sure there is no opportunity for graft in these new deals? How does the U.S. know whether there are "sweeteners" in the deal that give no benefit to the Afghan people?
When it comes to corruption, will more Chinese spending — China Metallurgical Group Company has already paid $3.4 billion for exclusive rights to develop a massive copper mine south of Kabul — have the same effect as pouring a gallon of gasoline on a campfire? Will it create a dangerous explosion of corruption? Who will provide the security for the Chinese ventures in Afghanistan? The Afghan government? Whose security forces are being trained and to a great degree paid for by the American taxpayer?
I ask again shouldn't the U.S. have some input into these trade negotiations?
Hovering over this specific point is the grand question: What does China contribute to the stability and peace-keeping effort that allows the Karzai government to thrive and personally flourish? $200 billion is the amount Times columnist Tom Friedman estimates the U.S. has spent so far in propping up Karzai and wooing those Taliban who can be wooed and pursuing those Taliban who can't. How much has China spent securing Afghanistan? Shouldn't Washington be sending Beijing a bill for services rendered?