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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/23/09

Allowing China a Dominant Role in Afghanistan's Future

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Message Ron Fullwood
". . . power in the 21st century is no longer a zero-sum game; one country's success need not come at the expense of another. And that is why the United States insists we do not seek to contain China's rise. On the contrary, we welcome China as a strong and prosperous and successful member of the community of nations." --President Obama, speaking at town hall meeting in Shanghai, China Nov. 16

ON his recent trip to China, President Obama publicly stressed cooperation between our nations and spoke at length of values and challenges that he said we share, while relegating serious criticisms of China's human rights record and economic concerns to private talks with the leaders there. Quite predictably, discussions of the economic concerns were reportedly muted by the fact of the record and rising U.S. debt that China finances such a great percentage of.

It's also reasonable to assume that the president's discussions of human rights abuses by China were similarly corrupted by the fact of America's spotty and sometimes negligent attention to the often destructive and devastating effects of our militarism waged across the sovereign borders of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan - the collateral effect of our 'shock and awe' bombings of civilian areas, the overthrow, replacement, and deliberate meddling in the affairs of sovereign governments; and the arbitrary, indefinite, and anti-democratic detentions of the citizenry, often without charges, trial, or counsel.

That spirit and focus from this new American administration on publicly stifling the negative about China and accentuating the positive isn't restricted to just economics or their abysmal lack of respect for their citizens' rights and freedom. The administration has yet to publicly challenge or solicit China to step up to their responsibility to the security of their border nation, Afghanistan.

In a period where China is experiencing unprecedented levels of growth and development - contrasted with America's faltering economy - little has been demanded of Afghanistan's neighbor in both the campaign against terrorism (a concern which China insists they share with the U.S.) and in the financing of the development of Afghanistan's security, an effort which the U.S. has opportunistically dominated.

At first blush, it would make sense that our government would be wary of allowing China - our longtime economic and military rival - to influence and advantage themselves of the Afghan regime our country folk are fighting and dying to preserve in power. It would even stand to reason that, given the posture our State Dept. and military take against what they see as potential threats from China's growing military, to China's refusal to cooperate with the U.S. in voting for U.N. sanctions against Iran, that our government and military would be loath to allow China to advantage themselves of the Afghan land or resources.

Yet, not only is our government acquiescing to China in their economic expansion into the new Afghanistan, our military has been directly protecting China's interests behind the sacrifice of our own nation's defenders.

In 2007, China's bid for copper rights in Afghanistan was accepted by the Karzai regime in a process in which many observers said the ethically-challenged government unfairly favored their influential neighbor. The deal included rights to the construction of a coal-fired electrical power plant and the contract to build Afghanistan's first freight railway. Earlier this year, it was reported that American troops there just happened to set up bases in Afghanistan's Jalrez Valley that they claimed were checkpoints against Taliban activity in the area, but effectively provides protection for China's copper mine.

While it's true, as American officials insist, that protecting China's mining enterprise in Afghanistan is also a defense of the country's most lucrative asset (a presumed benefit for the country's redevelopment), the glaring question is why hasn't the U.S. insisted that China assume the cost and function of that security?

China should be doing more in Afghanistan.

There is a glaring shortage of sustainable industry for Afghans who desperately need work. I'm not a fan of mining, but China's interest there should be leveraged to demand more from them in support of the infrastructure and development of the area for Afghans. I'm not supportive of a long-term U.S. role in defending that infrastructure. That job would seem to better fit folks in the region who should directly benefit from the Chinese projects and others, rather than some potential benefit to America.

The answer to all of that may well be within our nation's obvious rivalry with China and a lingering fear and secret loathing of the emerging giant. It can't be unnoticed by China that every decision our government makes to escalate and deepen our military involvement in the region is indirectly increasing our the debt to them that we've accrued as our military budget is inflated beyond our many other priorities and ability to pay. It may well be that there is a natural reluctance from the administration to demand an Afghanistan tribute from the creditors to that debt.

It would likely pain our defensive government and military establishment to allow China to move troops in and set up defensive bases in Afghanistan's neighboring provinces (like Uzbekistan) to 'fight terror'. But if there is any sincerity at all about preserving and defending the government we've helped install into power and authority, we should acknowledge that regional countries like Pakistan, Russia, China, and even Iran are going develop closer and more meaningful economic and security arrangements with the new regime than the West. It makes sense that we demand they assume responsibility for preserving the state they benefit from.

China should be allowed to do more in Afghanistan.

In March, the Obama administration accepted an invitation to attend a Russian-hosted conference on Afghanistan at which Iran also participated. The State Department sent a senior diplomat to a special conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization being held in Moscow to discuss Afghanistan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as members. Along with Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan are observers.

I'm convinced that China, Russia, and their trading partner, Iran, are indispensable to a 'stable' Afghanistan in the future. It was interesting to see the U.S. attend this conference because the SCO is usually acting outside of American interests. I can only conclude from the willingness to engage at this meeting that the U.S. also views these nations as indispensable to Afghanistan's future. That wasn't the case with the last White House which focused on its antipathy toward Iran in distancing themselves from the group. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned Iran's involvement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, saying that he thought it 'strange' that the SCO had included Iran because of what he said were their 'links to terrorists'.

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Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price
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