border review | 2 July 2012

LeVine on Afghanistan, oil, and the Pax-Sinica

In his Foreign Affairs blog The Oil and the Glory, Steve LeVine tries to bring some sanity into the debate about Chinese bids for oil and minerals in Afghanistan. Contrary to the rather cynical view of some Western politicians and observers (see here, here, and here) who fear that China may become the dominant player in Afghanistan and thereby reap the benefits of American blood and money, LeVine argues that both the US and China are interested in the same thing: a stable Afghanistan. Chinese investment will only raise the PRC’s stakes in working towards this goal.

From two decades of watching and covering the country, I feel confident saying that China will not end up “dominating Afghanistan,” because the Afghans are too astute to let that happen. They do not require foreigners to inform them of the downside risks of falling under the sway of an outside power. Yet how astute are we?

By appearances, not very. We seem to have determined that because China is a great rival in many sectors, it is by definition a danger everywhere. But the logic does not hold in Central and South Asia, where a robust Chinese economic role – a Pax Sinica, if you will – may be what stands between the success and failure of primary U.S. and Western strategic objectives. “Without China’s assistance, almost nothing of sustainable consequence will happen in South or Central Asia – in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, or elsewhere,” Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell, told me.

A highly recommended read.