Sino-Afghan Strategic Friendship and its Impacts on the Region


By Hekmatullah Zaland / CSRS

China is the country in the region that has not got imperialistic goals in other country and hence, generally, it has maintained friendly ties with the regional countries. Since last several years and especially after 2014 as a large portion of the foreign forces withdrew Afghanistan, China has increased its attention toward Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has also granted a special space to China in its foreign policy.

The exchange of visits between senior officials of both countries have increased in last three years; in this series, last week, National Security Advisor (NSA) to Afghan President, Mohammad Hanif Atmar was on an official visit to China which took place as a result of the Chinese Vice-President’s invitation where he met senior Chinese political and military officials there.              

Hanif Atmar’s visit to China, alongside other issues, is important when it comes to eliminating the present mistrusts between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and having Pakistan’s honest cooperation regarding peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The course of Kabul-Beijing ties, the impact of Afghan-Sino friendship on Kabul-Islamabad relations and other similar issues are discussed here.      


Kabul-Beijing Broadening Ties

Both countries, however, have a long history of ancient relations, but the diplomatic relations started only 63 years ago, that have been remained friendly until this moment, and China has never had destructive position against Afghanistan. Therefore, Afghans have positive view and opinion regarding China.

Afghan-Sino ties are the only relations that have not exercised instability in last one and a half decade of Afghanistan’s bilateral relations with other countries. These ties became closer during Hamid Karzai’s era, especially in his second term where the Kabul-Washington relations were deteriorated; however, these ties entered a new phase after the formation of National Unity Government (NUG).                

China increased its engagement in Afghan issues during last 3-year of NUG. Besides senior Chinese officials’ visits to Afghanistan, they participated in quadrilateral talks on Afghan peace process, initiated ministerial-level trilateral meeting for the purpose of reconstructing Afghan-Pak ties and increased its military assistance to Kabul as well.[1]    

On October 2017, the Afghan and China strategic friendship witnessed a new development in the 19th Congress of Chinese Communist Party and thus, this friendship counted to be entered a new phase where China makes effort to have Afghanistan turned into a center of regional and global economic cooperation and so the One Belt One Road project has a special importance in this regard.[2]

Afghan and Chinese Presidents have met three times in last three years and besides that, the exchange of ideas and visits have been unprecedentedly increased in this period of time. China, not only kept its ties with Afghan government great, but it has also paved the way for strengthening ties of People to People and Civil Society Organizations (CSO), and so, China tries to increase its Soft Power in Afghanistan.     

On the other side, China is a country that has got extensive economic presence in Afghanistan. We can mention the grant of contracts to China regarding mining of Aynak Copper Mine and extraction of oil from Amu Darya Basin, extensive economic assistance and broad presence in the business field. In this regard, the trade level between both countries went beyond USD 1 Billion in 2015.[3]


China’s Cumulative Enthusiasm

From 2001, Afghanistan and China’s bilateral ties were normal till one decade; however, Afghanistan and china upgraded their bilateral relations to strategic partnership. [4] If we have a glance to last few years, China’s role and engagement has increased in the peace and stability efforts of Afghanistan which evince China’s enthusiasm and attention toward Afghanistan and the most important reasons behind this can be withdrawal of a large portion of foreign troops from Afghanistan and transition of insecurities to the North of Afghanistan.      

China has got concerns about its domestic security as a result of insecurities in the North of Afghanistan as well as about regional security as result of its grand economic projects in the region. Therefore, China plays two-sided role in Afghanistan’s security and stability; for one side through its influence on Pakistan and from other side through increased its military assistance with Afghanistan. Thus, it support a military base in Badakhshan[5] and also, Hanif Atmar, Afghan NSA, in his recent visit to Beijing, asked China to equip the Mountain Brigade in Badakhshan. [6]

One the other hand, China, due to its cumulative enthusiasm in Afghanistan, wants to play a role in the Afghan peace process and inter-Afghan dialogue. So, China hosted the Urumqi meeting in 2015 where Afghan government and Taliban negotiated and also played as an overseer in the Islamabad’s Murree talks; however, it increased its role in the quadrilateral talks. For this purpose, China has a relative understanding with Taliban. Taliban senior delegations have visited China several times and both of them treat each other softly.       


China’s Impact on Afghan-Pak Relations

Afghanistan-China-Pakistan trilateral talks initiated in 2012[7], and the main agenda, from the very beginning, had evinced China’s concerns about the security situation in the region and implementation of two Chinese grand projects of One Belt One Road and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). [8]

The Chinese mediation between Afghanistan and Pakistan and ministerial-level trilateral meeting started for the first time in 2017. However, Afghan and Chinese presidents agreed upon these trilateral meetings in the sidelines of the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2017. Eventually, the trilateral meeting took place in Beijing in late December.    

On one hand, China officially declared its readiness for mediation in the Afghan peace process and facilitating inter-Afghan understating[9], and on the other hand, Afghan government thinks that the honest cooperation of Pakistan in the Afghan peace process is needed. China is the only country that can put pressure on Pakistan because it has got profound strategic ties especially when it comes to Beijing-Islamabad economic ties. Only in 2015, 51 contracts became singed during the Chinese President’s visit to Pakistan whose projects value USD 46 Billion. [10]

Nevertheless, at the moment, it seems that the policies of both strategic friends are in quarrel to some extent. Because China does not carry out the interventionist and conflicts policies in other countries, but wants to expand its power through economic policies, that has invested USD 57 Billion only in Pakistan. Due to this, in 2017, for the first time, China raised its voice against Pakistan. On September 2017, the declaration of BRICS, where China is an important member of it, condemned activities of armed groups in Pakistan. [11]

It was agreed upon in the visit of Pakistani Premier, Khaqan Abbasi to Kabul that Foreign Affairs Ministers and National Security Advisors of both countries will work of finalization of the Action Plan of Two Countries. Consequently, the aim of Afghan NSA’s visit to China, to a large extent, was to have Pakistan accept its demands by being pressured through China. Also, it is planned that the trilateral meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs will be held in Kabul in near future.     

The question remaining is that, why powerful China’s mediation in Pak-Afghan ties yet to achieve the things Afghanistan is seeking for? A truth is that, Pakistan can play vital role in the Afghan peace; however, it, generally, has not got a degree of control that could put pressure on the Taliban to make peace. On the other hand, mistrust in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is reached at the level which cannot be normalized that easy.   


Regional Policies

The expansion and strengthen of Afghanistan and China ties are welcomed on regional and international level and Pakistan is also content with China’s cumulative role in Afghanistan and its strategic friendship with that country because China, as Pakistan thinks, can replace India’s increasing role and influence in this country. 

China can play a role in understandings between America and Russia on international level as well as in reconstructing ties between Kabul and Islamabad on regional level. However, solely China’s pressure on Pakistan will not be enough to eliminate the long-lasting mistrusts between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

China also wants to become engaged in the Afghan issue for the sake of its own long-term interests; however, in general, it has taken steps in the Afghan issue with a great caution. 

The End

[1] CSRS, The “Afghanistan in the past one and a half-decade” research report, Published in 2017, Page 112.

[2] CSRS, The Report of the Seminar on “Sino-Afghan Bilateral Ties”, January 21, 2017, see online:

[3] Khalil, Ahmad Bilal, Afghanistan and China; the Bilateral Relations 1955-2015, CSRS, page 147.

[4] China Daily, >China, Afghanistan in strategic partnership<, June 8 2012, see online:

[5] The Diplomat, >China’s Military Base in Afghanistan<, January 18, 2018, see online:

[6] Tolonews, >NSA Asks China To Help Establish A ‘Mountain Brigade’<, 21 April 2018, see online:

[7] China Chairs the First Trilateral Dialogue of China-Afghanistan-Pakistan, 2012/02/29, see it online:

[8] CSRS, The “Afghanistan in the past one and a half-decade” research report, Published in 2017, Page 109.

[9] BBC Pashto, See online:

[10] CSRS, The Impacts of Chinese President’s Visit to Pakistan, April 26, 2015, see online:

[11] CSRS, The BRICS declaration and its impacts on the region, September 16, 2017, see online:

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