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China's Afghan Tar Baby

Is America's defeat China's opportunity?

By Hobbes  |  August 25, 2021

The world is watching agog and, largely, gleefully as America's twenty-year occupation of Afghanistan collapses in a vastly expensive and entirely avoidable horror due entirely to the choices made by Joe Biden, best described by Prime Minister Tony Blair as "imbecilic" in a classic example of British understatement.

As nation-states do, our rivals stand ready to exploit our craven failures.  Russia archly pointed out that its embassy in Kabul was still open and fully functional, unlike our abandoned billion-dollar one, and China proudly proclaimed that its embassy was both open and ready for "friendly and cooperative" relations with the Taliban.

When Russia's President Putin was a young man, the Soviet Union was engaged in a bloody war of occupation in Afghanistan, not too dissimilar from our own, which ended in much the same result - except that the retreat was carried out in a far more competent manner which resulted in far less devastating optics.  It must fill Putin's heart with glee to see his old great enemies receive such a comeuppance at the hands of his old little enemies.  Having learned the lesson so recently, it's pretty unlikely Russia will again meddle in the Afghan mountains beyond the usual diplomatic and intelligence games.

China is another story.  The Chinese have long been pouring serious money into the intercontinental "Belt and Road Initiative" to provide a high-speed land route to Europe from China's manufacturing centers.  This exercise in "diplomacy by road" doesn't depend on going through Afghanistan, the Chinese not being imbeciles, but that doesn't mean that adding a spur into Afghanistan wouldn't be useful.

For such a long stretch of transportation infrastructure to be profitable, to bring up a non-Communist but very Chinese concept, end-to-end traffic is not enough; there needs to be a significant volume of cargo and passengers going partway, both as origins and destinations.  At the same time, China has been gaining control of essential resources worldwide, most notably in Africa, but even in such unlikely places as Greenland.

Afghanistan is far closer to China, much less populous than Africa, and apparently has considerably more mineral potential than you might expect:

Aerial surveys determined that Afghanistan may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan's Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements.

Yes indeed, it's exactly those rare earths that are essential for modern electronics and high-tech batteries, on which China has already established an effective monopoly.  It's hard to notice buried amid all the other disasters brought on us by Biden maladministration and misgovernance, but supply problems have led to a global chip shortage impacting manufacturing of everything that uses them, from cars to appliances.

With China's well-known plans to dominate global 5G communications technology and having already been targeted by US sanctions, it's simple common sense for China to try to get control of essential resources so close and so rich.  But there's an even larger opportunity for China's utterly amoral and evil rulers to solve a potentially much more grave problem.

Killing Two Birds, and More People

For both Russian and the United States, occupying and ruling Afghanistan proved to be more costly than it was worth.  Communist Russia in the 1980s was on its last economic legs and its subject peoples were growing tired of Soviet control and repression; the combination of expensive military supplies and large numbers of body bags forced Gorbachev to throw in the towel.

With America, we don't seem to worry about cost - the Biden budget is wasting far more than the cost of the entire Afghan war on leftist garbage - and, until the withdrawal, there'd been no dead American soldiers in Afghanistan in over a year.  The American people had simply tired of having a presence in a country that seemed to offer us nothing but problems - they basically got bored.  As gruesomely incompetent as it was, Mr. Biden's cut-and-run wasn't contrary to voter desires as to the what, merely the how.

China does not appear to have this problem, at least its leaders don't think so.  Taiwan has been functionally independent for a lifetime and yet the rhetoric of reconquest has only increased.

The Chinese Communist Party is also thoroughly engaged in a multi-decade attempt to exterminate Islam and Uighur culture by the straightforward, albeit brutal, expedient of removing Uighur children from their homes and educating them in state schools to be good little atheist Communists.  Given their use of imprisoned Uighurs as slave laborers to help them cut the cost of solar panels and supply replacement organs to support high-value medical tourism, they may even show a profit.  When pressed on this point, the Chinese communists note that America, Canada, Australia, and England did the same to their violent ethnic minorities, so who are we to complain?

Afghanistan, of course, is notoriously Islamic, with the Taliban ranking among the most extreme and creatively brutal.  It remains to be seen whether they can out-brutal the Chinese.  In a generous gesture which seems calculated to level the playing field, out commander-in-thief gifted the Taliban with billions of dollars worth of sophisticated American weaponry, but Chinese numbers and ruthlessness may win the day anyway.

We may find out sooner than we think.  It happens that China has a surplus of 70 million young men who have no hope of finding wives.  There are far fewer Chinese women born than men, and Chinese farm girls would rather be farm wives in Korea than in China.  Due to China's infamous one-child policy and a strong cultural preference for sons, parts of rural China see 140 male births for every 100 female.

Hordes of unmarried men become a recipe for severe societal dislocation - there's a reason we have the phrase "marrying and settling down."  These men have nobody to get married to, so they're unlikely to settle down.

The Afghan opportunity opening up before them grants China's leaders a way to nobly dispose of these excess "broken branches" as heroes for the Motherland bringing home the rare-earth bacon.  Like the Soviets before them, the Chinese have absolutely no compunctions about using whatever brutality seems suitable; like America, the Chinese have ample economic resources to subdue a small, poor, friendless country of disorganized though violent barbarians no matter how well-armed.

Unlike either, the Chinese have no reason, political or practical, to care about casualties.  Indeed, it's positively to their advantage to thin down their herd while offering the survivors access to women in addition to combat ribbons.

Bluntly put - which is exactly how China's leadership thinks about such things - China could easily afford to lose two single-male soldiers each to exterminate every one of the 32 million Afghans, thus solving the Chinese gender imbalance.  If it took only one Chinese to kill one of the 16 million Afghan males, the 16 million surviving Afghan women would solve the other half of the problem while providing a more cooperative work force for the mines.  What beautiful efficiency!

You may be dropping your jaw in horror, but rest assured, the Chinese leadership aren't; they are instead salivating at the opportunity.

The Best-Laid Plans

What's to stop this from happening?  Well, certainly nothing we control anymore, and not much otherwise, save for one thing: reality.

Is it likely that the rest of the world, whether it be the Islamic states of Iran and Pakistan or the dying superpower of Russia, will simply sit there while China rolls in?  Pakistan notoriously supplied the Taliban to fight the Americans as the Americans supplied the mujahideen to fight the Russians; why wouldn't everyone chip in to help take a stripe off the hides of the Chinese when the opportunity presents itself?

Is it all that unthinkable that the billions of dollars of American equipment fecklessly abandoned in Afghanistan by Joe Biden might eventually find a use fighting against China after all?  Or would these weapons merely help the Taliban solve the Chinese gender imbalance problem more rapidly?  Do we particularly care?

Afghanistan presents what appears to be a golden opportunity for Chinese expansionism; it may also prove to be too much to swallow, as it's been for every previous empire that's tried.  Small hope, but better than nothing!

On the bright side, anything that increases the availability of rare earths required by all those electric cars which will be needed to Save the Planet should bring joy to the hearts of environmentalists everywhere; we already know that the fate of Afghan females disturbs our progressives not one whit.