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Report: China may send peacekeeping force to Afghanistan after US troops leave

People's Liberation Army soldiers at Shenyang training base in China, March 24, 2007. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force)
April 16, 2021

China may consider sending a force of peacekeeping troops into nearby Afghanistan after President Joe Biden announced U.S. troops will leave the country by September of this year.

Sun Qi, a security analyst who spoke with the South China Morning Post this week, suggested China may deploy peacekeeping forces to prevent security threats in Afghanistan from spilling over into its western Xinjiang province. Afghanistan connects to China’s Xinjiang province by way of a narrow sliver of land on its northeast corner.

The South China Morning Post reported the withdrawal of U.S. and international troops from Afghanistan could risk terrorist activity spilling over the border. China has been accused of operating concentration camps to detain predominantly Muslim ethnic minority members like the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, under the pretext of a counterterrorism mission.

Su, an international relations specialist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the South China Morning Post that Afghan government forces may not be able to maintain security after U.S. and international troops leave.

“The situation in Afghanistan might go further into chaos in the future. Cross-border crime, drug trafficking and smuggling of firearms may proliferate,” Sun said. “If the security situation poses a significant threat, China may send peacekeeping troops along with humanitarian assistance to the region under the terms of the Charter of the United Nations to ensure the safety and interests of Chinese people and companies there.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also expressed concern about the Biden administration’s withdrawal plan during a Thursday press conference.

“Currently the security situation in Afghanistan remains complicated and grave,” Zhao said. “Terrorism is far from being eradicated. China’s position is consistent and clear. We hold that foreign troops in Afghanistan should withdraw in a responsible and orderly manner to ensure a stable transition and prevent terrorist forces from taking advantage of potential chaos to fester.”

Zhao said the U.S. is the “single largest external factor” affecting security in Afghanistan and should “safeguard progress made in peaceful reconstruction, and fully accommodate regional countries’ legitimate security concerns.”

Zhao also said, “China stands ready to maintain communication and cooperation with all parties concerned on this to play a constructive role in realizing lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan at an early date.”

While Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal timeline has raised concerns in China about the potential for security threats to spill over from Afghanistan, at least one Chinese security researcher said China may not be trying to fill the gap left in Afghanistan by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Wang Jin, a research fellow at the Charhar Institute think tank in northern China, told the South China Morning Post, “A number of countries, including Pakistan, India and Russia, want to exert their influence in the region, so China really needs to be careful of getting involved in the chaos.”

Both Wang and Zhao noted that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan also comes as the U.S. seeking to reconfigure its forces towards emerging threats from China.

“The remarks by the US side linking the withdrawal with dealing with challenges posed by China reflect a sinister and deep-seated Cold-War mentality, which is detrimental to China-US mutual trust and won’t help with bilateral coordination and cooperation on regional and international issues,” Zhao said on Thursday.

Wang similarly said, “The withdrawal from Afghanistan allows the US to boost its military presence in Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, with the aim of containing China.” He added that the U.S. is “highly likely to increase its military activity in the  South China Sea and China-Indochina peninsula.”