Imperiled Buddhas and Sino-Afghan Relations

By investing heavily in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, China has extended its political influence in the war-torn country, and secured some of the resources needed to fuel its own rapid development. In 2007, state-owned China Metallurgical Group (MCC) won the rights to a large copper deposit, and initial development revealed a Buddhist heritage site dating back to the silk-road. Film-maker Brent Huffman has been documenting the tension between archeological and mining campaigns on the site, and posted about it on the Asia Society blog:

The Buddhists that picked the location of a religious center in Mes Aynak, Afghanistan, some 2,000 years ago did so in part to make ornaments and coins from the copper at the site. Today, a Chinese mining company may destroy what they left behind to extract that same resource.

[...]Efforts to save and preserve the massive site have been drastically scaled back to a project whose best hope is to merely document the site before the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) begins copper excavation in 2014. The remaining cultural relics and immense structures, which are both too large and fragile to be moved, will all be destroyed.

MCC, for its part, said it did not know the archaeological site existed when they took on the project, and that the site will not stand in the way of the excavation of copper valued at over 100 billion dollars.

[...]As archaeologists scramble to save what they can from the site before the 2014 deadline, it has become clear to me that another cultural wonder in Asia will be lost to a future focused on resource extraction, ultimately benefiting countries like China over the citizens of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Afghanistan will soon begin pumping oil, and China’s National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) will be at the forefront of the efforts:

China’s National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and its Afghan partner the Watan Group will initially produce 5,000 barrels a day, mining ministry spokesman Jawad Omar told AFP.

This would be the first extraction of oil in Afghanistan, a mineral-rich country that is still one of the poorest in the world after three decades of war.

[...]China, flush with foreign exchange reserves and undeterred by the hazards of frontier capitalism, bought the first tendered oil and copper concessions, leading the list of Afghanistan’s neighbours bidding for mining rights.

But resource security is certainly not the only reason China shows interest in rebuilding a stable Afghanistan. In a recent CSIS white paper, Zhao Huasheng explains how  a secure Afghanistan could contribute to a stable Xinjiang, and details China’s strategy in approaching Afghanistan.

A UN envoy to Afghanistan recently praised China’s approach to rebuilding a peaceful and secure Afghanistan. India’s Zee News reports:

The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, hailed China’s support for the peace and reconstruction process of the war-torn country, saying it is crucial for the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

“The bilateral policy of investment in Afghanistan that is promoted by China is extremely important for the future of Afghanistan, not only for economic and social development but for the future stability and sustainable development of the country and the whole region,” Kubis told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“China is not only a permanent member of the Security Council, it is also a regional country, so I would say that China has a very special responsibility for working together with Afghanistan, for a better future of the country and for a more stable region,” said Kubis, special representative of the UN secretary-general to Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.