China Weighing Occupation of Former U.S. Air Base at Bagram

China is considering deploying military personnel and economic development officials to Bagram airfield, perhaps the single-most prominent symbol of the 20-year U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

The Chinese military is currently conducting a feasibility study about the effect of sending workers, soldiers and other staff related to its foreign economic investment program known as the Belt and Road Initiative in the coming years to Bagram, according to a source briefed on the study by Chinese military officials, who spoke to U.S. News on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday issued a carefully crafted denial of plans for an imminent takeover of the military airfield roughly an hour from Kabul, first established by the Soviets during their own occupation in Afghanistan and which at the height of the U.S. military presence there was its busiest in the world.

“What I can tell everyone is that that is a piece of purely false information,” Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday morning. China has repeatedly denied many of its other military deployments beyond its borders.

However, the current consideration in Beijing is not for any pending movements, rather a potential deployment as long as two years from now, the source says. And it would not encompass taking over the base but rather sending personnel and supplies at the invitation of the government in Kabul – and certainly after the Taliban secures its rule.

In addition to expanding its regional influence, Beijing’s potential plan for Bagram would also amount to a devastating blow to the image of the U.S., which increasingly considers China its most pressing and challenging global threat.

“Given their past experience, the Chinese must be eager to get their hands on whatever the U.S. has left at the base,” says Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center think tank.

Beijing has already recognized the geostrategic importance of Bagram overtly. Its state media almost immediately hopped on the sudden and surprise U.S. departure from the key logistics hub in July, sending a video crew, which gained easy access to it, to document the aftermath of what it described as a “hasty withdrawal” and “humiliating defeat.”

China’s latest consideration matches well-worn practices it has perfected in recent years to quietly expand its…

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