Afghanistan Begins Road Link to China; Beijing Discusses Adding Afghanistan to CPEC

On May 23, a gov­ern­ment offi­cial in Afghanistan dis­closed that con­struc­tion had begun on a $5 mil­lion road in the country’s Pamir moun­tain region that will become the sole land route between Afghanistan and Chi­na.  Once com­plet­ed, the offi­cial not­ed that the road would be used to export raw mate­ri­als to the Chi­nese mar­ket from untapped Afghan mines.

The Afghanistan gov­ern­ment is report­ed­ly financ­ing the 50 km road, and, thus far, no direct involve­ment by Chi­nese com­pa­nies or banks is evi­dent.  For more than a decade, Chi­na has expressed inter­est in invest­ing in Afghanistan’s raw mate­ri­als and min­er­al resources, but has not fol­lowed through due to per­sis­tent vio­lence and con­flict in the coun­try.

Some observers are spec­u­lat­ing, how­ev­er, that the U.S. with­draw­al from Afghanistan could prompt Bei­jing to be more proac­tive in the coun­try through invest­ment (poten­tial­ly lead­ing also  to the pres­ence of addi­tion­al secu­ri­ty per­son­nel).  On May 24, just one day fol­low­ing Kabul’s announce­ment on the road project, China’s For­eign Min­istry said it has been in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Pak­istan and Afghanistan about the inclu­sion of Afghanistan with­in the Chi­na-Pak­istan Eco­nom­ic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) frame­work.  

Zhao Lijian, a spokesper­son for the For­eign Min­istry, added,

We have also noticed that Afghanistan has import­ed and export­ed relat­ed goods through the Gwadar Port and Karachi Port.  Chi­na, Pak­istan, and Afghanistan are dis­cussing issues relat­ed to extend­ing roads and express­ways in Pak­istan to Afghanistan.

In Jan­u­ary 2020, Gwadar Port in south­west­ern Pak­istan began tak­ing car­go ship­ments under the Afghanistan-Pak­istan Tran­sit Trade Agree­ment (APTTA), where­by Afghanistan was grant­ed access to the port to import and export goods via Pak­istani land routes.  Gwadar Port has been devel­oped and is now oper­at­ed by Chi­na Over­seas Port Hold­ing Com­pa­ny (COPHC), which is con­tract­ed to receive 91% of the rev­enues from Gwadar over the next 40 years.  Per reports, the Afghan tran­sit trade has been an impor­tant first source of rev­enue for the Chi­nese oper­a­tors of the port.

Notably, the Wakhjir Pass through which the new road will be built is the only direct route between Chi­na and Afghanistan that is poten­tial­ly nav­i­ga­ble.  The moun­tain pass con­nects Afghanistan’s Wakhan region with the Tashkur­gan Tajik Autonomous Coun­ty in Xin­jiang, China.