Why is China tempted by Taliban oil?

A Chinese company has signed an agreement with the Taliban on the exploitation of oil in the river region of northern Afghanistan. This is the first major business deal with a foreign company since the Islamist fundamentalists came to power in 2021.

The Taliban have been waiting for this for a long time. More precisely, since they returned to power in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021. On January 5, the authorities announced the signing of the first major commercial contract with a foreign company.

China’s Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co (CAPEIC) group has acquired oil exploitation rights for 25 years in the Amu Darya basin region, which serves as a natural border between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Taliban, serious partners?

At the signing ceremony, Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu insisted that the oil deal is “an important project between China and Afghanistan.” The unprecedented agreement will see CAPEIC, an entity created in the early 2000s by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China’s main oil giant, invest $150 million in its first year of operation, followed by €540 million over the next three years. . years.

“About 3 thousand Afghans will be provided with jobs thanks to this project” Zabihullah encouraged MujahidSpokesman of the Taliban regime.

For the Islamist fundamentalists in power in Kabul, the deal represents more than a story of black gold, which should create thousands of jobs. Raffaello Pantucci, an expert on China’s relations with Asian countries, analyzes that this is the first example that the “Taliban” can show in an attempt to convince other potential partners that they are responsible and can be taken seriously. International Studies in Singapore.

Since the return of the head of state in August 2021, the Taliban has not been officially recognized by virtually any country, including China. The lack of international legitimacy, accompanied by the open hostility of most Western countries, has greatly contributed to the exclusion of Afghanistan from world trade.

However, the Taliban never stopped “appealing to foreign countries in the hope of persuading a Western company to invest in the country,” notes Raffaello Pantucci. But before hoping to land on the moon, Kabul first set its sights on China, perceived as the major power least adversary to the Taliban government.

Beijing has shown in the past that it is open to trade relations with these Muslim fundamentalists. During the Taliban’s first rule – between 1996 and 2001 – Chinese groups were interested in two major projects: the exploitation of a very important copper mine near the Mes Aynak archaeological site (35 km south of Kabul) and the excess oil deposits in the Amu Darya basin.

The Taliban hoped that at least one of these two projects with China would be signed soon. But since 2021, even Beijing has been scaling back its economic interests in Afghanistan. “There have only been contacts with a few private companies – nothing with large public consortia – but even they have started to withdraw from the country”, emphasizes Raffaello Pantucci.

The challenge for China is twofold: almost all infrastructure needs to be built or rebuilt, and the country is still far from offering enough stability to ensure the safety of industrial facilities.

Energy trojan

The “South China Morning Post” reported on China’s lack of economic courage, “which greatly disappointed the Taliban.” “We have not seen a penny of Chinese investment” In late September, the vice president of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce, Khan Jan, lamented Alokoza..

The signing of the oil exploitation project with CAPEIC puts an end to this expectation. For China, it is not just a matter of black gold.

Jean-Francois Dufur, an expert on the Chinese economy and the company’s co-founder, said, “With its dependence on oil imports, which meet about 70% of China’s hydrocarbon needs, Beijing will not miss the opportunity to secure a source of supply.” Sinopole, a resource center in China.

But the Amu Darya basin is not full of oil either. Regarding the potential of this region, the American Geological Survey concluded that it is only of relative interest for oil.

On the other side is an area full of gas. According to a 2019 study by PetroChina, it will be the third most important gas basin in the world after Siberia and the Persian Gulf.

Are you paying the price for quiet in Xinjiang?

Raffaello Pantucci notes that China has also started exploiting the gas on the Turkmenistan side, and “there is a very good chance that the engineers told their superiors that the gas field does not stop at the border with Afghanistan.” In this context, the oil agreement with Afghanistan will be a kind of energy Trojan horse. “If gas is discovered, the Chinese who are already in place hope to be in the forefront to exploit it,” the expert adds.

But this is not only an economic issue for Beijing. The regime also “hopes to get assurances about Xinjiang,” notes Jean-Francois Dufour. With the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, one of China’s main fears is that the country could become a rear base for operations by Uyghur militants, a Muslim minority persecuted in China’s Xinjiang region.

The Taliban may have reiterated that they will not tolerate any attacks from their territory into China, which Beijing believes needs to better cover its back. “The Chinese hope that by making the Taliban dependent on them for their resources, they will be able to move quietly in Xinjiang,” concludes Jean-Francois Dufour.

Therefore, this deal is seen as a win-win operation for the two countries, and the Taliban hope that this is only the beginning of more fruitful cooperation. In their view: Afghanistan’s Mes Aynak copper mine, “should hold about a third of China’s current copper reserves,” notes Jean-Francois Dufour.

Will Beijing be fooled by mining sirens? This is perhaps the main reason for this oil deal. This is less important than a possible copper deal, and China has relegated it to a secondary entity. This could be a way to test the reaction of the international community. If this Sino-Afghan rapprochement creates agitation, the Chinese regime can always use CAPEIC as a scapegoat. If no one reacts, then it will be time to exploit the Mes Aynak mine.

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