China is set to move to Afghanistan to mine rare earth elements (REEs), and the profits could be used to fund future terrorism, said a Texas Congressman on Tuesday, according to a report in Sputnik News.
“China will be moving. There are rare earth minerals in (Afghanistan). I don’t know why we didn’t work with the Afghans to develop that, we we never did,” the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul said.
“And now, you’re going to have China going in, mining these rare earth minerals.
“As a result, China is the winner and the United States is the loser in this situation as are the Afghan people,” he added.
“The Taliban will have a huge windfall profit from this that they’ll put into terrorist financing.”
Afghanistan is facing its worst-ever crisis in decades as the country`s government fell on Sunday and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country soon after the Taliban entered Kabul.
While the Islamist insurgents have issued a blanket amnesty to enemies and protection of women’s rights, reports are already emerging that local Taliban commanders are not following this line.
McCaul also slammed the administration of President Biden over the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan during a television interview.
“I think the secretary has been devoid of reality this whole time since the decision was made in May. I think it’s an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions,” McCaul told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” referring to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“And I think the President — this is going to be a stain on this President and this presidency. And I think he’s going to have blood on his hands for what they did,” McCaul said, adding later that he thinks Afghanistan is going to go back “to a pre-9/11 state — a breeding ground for terrorism.
“I hate to say this: I hope we don’t have to go back there, but it will be a threat to the homeland in a matter of time,” he told Tapper.
Blinken, in a separate interview Sunday on “State of the Union,” defended Biden’s decision to end the US war in the country, telling Tapper: “The fact of the matter is had the President decided to keep forces in Afghanistan beyond May 1, attacks would have resumed on our forces.
“The Taliban had not been attacking our forces or NATO during the period from which the agreement was reached,” Blinken said.
The secretary also noted that the US plans to “keep in place in the region the capacity to see any re-emergence of a terrorist threat and to be able to deal with it.”
A major rare earths exporter, China supplies 80% of America’s total rare earths usage annually. And thanks to government subsidies, China is able to sell these materials at a significantly lower price than competitors.
While rare earths import is a small percentage of the US$500 billion goods the US. buys from China every year, they are critical to the American tech industry, and the US doesn’t have many alternatives to source from if China cuts off supply.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world.
But in 2010, US military officials and geologists revealed that the country, which lies at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, was sitting on mineral deposits worth nearly US$1 trillion that could dramatically transform its economic prospects, CNN reported.
Supplies of minerals such as iron, copper and gold are scattered across provinces.
There are also rare earth minerals and, perhaps most importantly, what could be one of the world’s biggest deposits of lithium — an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies vital to tackling the climate crisis.
“Afghanistan is certainly one of the regions richest in traditional precious metals, but also the metals [needed] for the emerging economy of the 21st century,” said Rod Schoonover, a scientist and security expert who founded the Ecological Futures Group.
Demand for metals like lithium and cobalt, as well as rare earth elements such as neodymium, is soaring as countries try to switch to electric cars and other clean technologies to slash carbon emissions, CNN reported.
The International Energy Agency said in May that global supplies of lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements needed to increase sharply or the world would fail in its attempt to tackle the climate crisis.
Three countries — China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Australia — currently account for 75% of the global output of lithium, cobalt and rare earths.
The average electric car requires six times more minerals than a conventional car, according to the IEA. Lithium, nickel and cobalt are crucial to batteries.
Electricity networks also require huge amounts of copper and aluminum, while rare earth elements are used in the magnets needed to make wind turbines work, CNN reported.
“The Taliban has taken power but the transition from insurgent group to national government will be far from straightforward,” said Joseph Parkes, Asia security analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft. “Functional governance of the nascent mineral sector is likely many years away.”
That could change, of course, with heavy Chinese involvement.
“China, the next-door neighbor, is embarking on a very significant green energy development program,” Schoonover said.
“Lithium and the rare earths are so far irreplaceable because of their density and physical properties. Those minerals factor into their long-term plans.”
On July 28, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met a Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the senior-most figures in the group, in Beijing.
While Beijing had engaged with the Taliban previously, the publicity given to the meeting was interpreted as being unusual.
Other than the usual diplomatic platitudes, Wang called the Taliban “an important military and political force in Afghanistan” and a group that “is expected to play an important role in the country’s peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process.”
While the West has threatened not to work with the Taliban, China, Russia and Pakistan are lining up to do business with the militant group — further adding to America’s humiliation over the fall of the country.
Beijing — already Afghanistan’s largest foreign investor — is seen as likely to lead the race to help the country build an efficient mining system to meet its insatiable needs for minerals.
“Taliban control comes at a time when there is a supply crunch for these minerals for the foreseeable future and China needs them,” Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told DW online. “China is already in position in Afghanistan to mine these minerals.”
One of the Asian powerhouse’s mining giants, the Metallurgical Corporation of China, already has a 30-year lease to mine copper in Afghanistan’s barren Logar province.
Chinese state-run media, meanwhile, described how Afghanistan can now benefit from the country’s massive Belt and Road Initiative — Beijing’s controversial infrastructure plan to build road, rail and sea routes through Asia to Europe.
But concerns about regional security must be addressed.
Beijing is worried that the war-torn country could become a hideout for China’s minority Uyghur separatists and that its economic interests will be undermined by continued violence within Afghanistan.
“If the Taliban can provide China stable operating conditions, then the copper operations alone potentially could produce tens of billions of dollars of revenue, spurring the development of mining operations for other minerals in the country,” Tanchum said.
Security will not likely improve overnight, and corruption — which remains rife and reportedly exacerbated the Taliban’s speedy capture of the country — could continue to stymie foreign investment. Afghanistan’s infrastructure and legal system also remain woefully lacking.
“One of the main problems was that you were unable to get the resources out of the country without a private army to secure them against the Taliban,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director at the Counter Extremism Project.
“Now, that threat has gone, but the infrastructure … is still not there, so they will need large-scale investment.”
Sources: Sputnik News, CNN Politics, The Week Magazine, DW.com, Verisk Maplecraft, Observer.com, CNBC