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How is China contributing to peace efforts in Afghanistan? Should they be prompted to take more action?
Anyway, as these questions were putting pressure on my normal brain function I decided to ask someone about them: Kerry Brown, former British diplomat in Beijing, currently senior fellow at the Chatham House think tank. Brown began by saying it's a time of suspicion between China and America.
"The Chinese diplomatic game is to be helpful but not go out of their way. That suits every one." The Chinese government's "big concern," according to Brown, is whether the U.S. is really planning to leave Afghanistan. He paraphrased an idea from "p. 131" of Chinese intellectual Wang Hui's book "End of the Revolution": "Where does the American border end? Not at passport control. It goes right up to the border of Korea, the border of Pakistan. These are countries that border China."
China shares a border with Afghanistan also. Brown thinks its rulers are ambivalent about a American presence in yet another country to which it is adjacent. American difficulty might have an upside for the Chinese. On the other hand, Brown points out, "China wants stability in the region and it wants to stop the internationalization of Islamic terrorism."
OK, ambivalence explains why China won't get involved with providing bodies for the international stability force in Afghanistan. A similar ambivalence probably exists on the American side ... a few thousand crack troops from the People's Liberation Army serving in ISAF is probably not something on top of General Stanley McChrystal or Obama's Christmas wish list. But what about a little cash contribution toward the war?
Brown laughs, "China would say, 'We're already doing that. We're funding your defense budget. We're funding your whole deficit.'"
If the U.S. were to press the argument, Brown thinks the response would be, "You want us to re-patriate some of those dollars, we hold? Fine let us buy some of your state-of-the art military hardware." That is something the U.S. government would be reluctant to do.
So a certain balance holds. China creams off the good contracts to exploit the natural resources of Afghanistan ... and in so doing builds a bit of infrastructure for the country. The U.S. provides the military security but China doesn't get involved in expansionism.
These insights leave me with a different question for American policymakers. Should the current equation be re-balanced to draw the People's Republic into a more active role in Afghanistan or should the U.S. follow the centuries old wisdom of Napoleon and "let China sleep"?