China to Extend 'Silk Road' Plan to Afghanistan

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12 May, 2017

China is extending its Belt and Road Initiative to include Afghanistan.

The development plan refers to the historic Silk Road between China and the West. It aims to link more than 60 countries from Asia to Europe, through land and maritime trade routes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the plan in 2013.

The extension plan would involve extending the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, known as CPEC, to neighboring Afghanistan. The CPEC is a program within the larger Belt and Road Initiative.

China is now preparing for the first Belt and Road Forum, a meeting of countries involved in the development project. The two-day event begins Sunday in Beijing. More than 25 heads of state will attend the meeting.

The Unites States also is sending a delegation to the meeting. It will be led by Matthew Pottinger, an adviser to President Donald Trump and a National Security Council official for East Asia.

China welcomed the move, which was first planned when Trump met with Xi last month in Florida.

China expanding its Belt and Road project

The decision to include Afghanistan has caused some observers to question whether China is trying to expand its influence in this area of Asia.

Ahmad Bilal Khalil is a researcher with the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, Afghanistan. He recently spoke with VOA about China's development plans.

He said that the aim is to create a road linking Pakistan's Peshawar to the Afghan capital of Kabul and to Kunduz, and then deeper into Central Asia.

Khalil said having projects in Afghanistan will help China with its $50 billion project in Pakistan. He says the effort will bring "more Pakistani and Chinese economic interests into Afghanistan."

"If there is insecurity in Afghanistan, (it) can also affect CPEC and One Belt, One Road," Khalil said. One Belt, One Road is another name for the Belt and Road Initiative.

David Kelly is with China Policy, a consulting company based in Beijing. He said that China hopes its investments in Afghanistan will reduce tensions there.

However, he said that reducing the religious and ethnic conflict in the country has been, in his words, "something that the Americans and before them the Soviets were unable to do."

China has invested in the copper mines of Afghanistan. It wants to improve access to the country's mineral resources.

M.K. Bhadrakumar is an author and an Indian diplomat. He said that extending the Belt and Road project to Afghanistan will help China in those efforts.

"One trillion dollars' worth of mineral resources are available in Afghanistan," he said.

Some observers note that China also may aim to be involved in Afghanistan's building industry in the future.

But China's main goal, some experts say, is to improve regional security through development and economic cooperation.

That is a difficult task. Recent clashes on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan killed more than 50 people in two days.

Ahmad Bilal Khalil said, "There is also a huge possibility that terrorism and extremism will also be exported to central Asia."

Researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute noted in a recent report that the Belt initiative can do little to improve relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But, they wrote, "there may be prospects for this over the medium to long term."

David Kelly with China Policy said China believes it can reduce religious extremism through offering economic benefits.

However, this policy has been proven wrong in the past, he said.

Saibal Dasgupta reported this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

maritime –adj. having to do with sea travel

route –n. a way to get from one place to another

regional –adj. having to do with a large area within a country or including several countries

prospect –n. the possibility that something will happen

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