China Congress

Delegates applaud as Chinese President Xi Jinping, bottom right, arrives for the March opening session of China’s National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

The Taliban toppled Afghanistan's elected government on Monday. By Tuesday, the gun-toting Taliban leaders who mugged for cameras in the Kabul presidential palace received warm greetings from Beijing.

Welcome to Belt and Road, China's foreign outreach policy that's ensnaring the third world. And Afghanistan, which shares a 50-mile border with China, is now a perfect target.

"Facts have once again proved that some countries' military intervention against a sovereign state in the name of democracy and human rights has seriously undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of relevant country, causing serious damage to its economic and social development and leading to massive civilian casualties and displacement," China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian crowed Tuesday. "These countries should immediately stop illegal military intervention and make concrete efforts to safeguard world peace and security and promote and protect human rights."

By cuddling with the Taliban, China is again opening the world's largest pawn shop. Impoverished nations like Afghanistan can put up natural resources as collateral for infrastructure, no credit check or human rights study required.

Brutal regimes from Iran to Venezuela get economic growth, which helps them cling to power. China initially gains bushels of influence, insulating China's President Xi Jinping who is viewed with suspicion by the West and in the capitals of Asian democracies.

As the policy plays out, China gains unfettered access to oil, mineral wealth and other natural resources and wide-open markets for its industrial output.

In the Congo, Belt and Road netted China 10.6 million tons of copper and 600,000 tons of cobalt.

Zimbabwe pawned platinum. Kenya put up its coffee crop and signed over title to the ports of Nairobi and Mombassa. Iran pawned crude oil and natural gas.

Dictatorships frequently run into economic trouble. China is a friendly lender. Can't pay? China will keep pawned merchandise.

Afghanistan has plenty to put in hock. A Pentagon study found it has more than $1 trillion in untapped mineral wealth included one of the planet's richest deposits of lithium. A key material in production of batteries for everything from mobile phones to Tesla automobiles, lithium is trading at $7 a pound — nearly 90 times the price of iron ore.

And Afghanistan offers far more to China than mineral wealth. Influence over the influential Taliban could help Beijing gain control over Islamic militants in its far western provinces.

China has used concentration camps and police power to crack down on Muslims, most from the Uyghur minority group, gaining scorn from the United Nations and western powers. But China has kept in touch with the Taliban, prompting allegations that Beijing helped the militants thwart American efforts in Afghanistan.

If the Taliban put in a good word, though, the militancy could ebb. At the foreign ministry in Beijing, Zhao Lijian is already smiling.

"China's position on the Afghan issue is clear and consistent," he said. "We hope that Afghanistan can form an open, inclusive and broadly representative government that echoes the widely shared aspirations of its own people and the international community."

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

City Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's City Editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom has covered the military at home and overseas and has covered statehouses in Denver and Olympia, Wash. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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