One of the first nations to move to recognize the Taliban’s legitimacy amid its takeover of Afghanistan was communist China. For those that pay attention to geopolitics, this didn’t come as much of a surprise. Yet, beyond mere realpolitik and great-power posturing, another tangible, even materialistic, reason has become clear: Afghanistan’s abundance of critical minerals.
Despite being a poor nation, Afghanistan has nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits, many of which are rare earth minerals such as cobalt, nickel and copper. Used in everything from cellphones and laptops to medical and military equipment, these critical minerals are the building block of a modern, technologically advanced society. Afghanistan is thought to have the largest lithium deposit in the world, which is a key component of modern forms of energy storage, such as batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy.
As the world transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy, the demand for lithium especially will continue to skyrocket. Increasingly, access to these types of minerals will define the future of geopolitics, in the way that oil and natural gas have shaped the modern world’s balance of power. Worryingly for the United States, China not only possesses 35 percent of the world’s entire critical mineral supply, but it also accounts for 70 percent of global production. Additionally, China directly supplies 80 percent of the U.S.’s rare earth imports.
This could have severe consequences for U.S. national and economic security. As the U.S. seeks to hold China accountable for its crimes, such as oppression of the Uyghur population, infringement on Hong Kong’s sovereignty, or the country’s environmental abuses, China can leverage its critical mineral dominance over us to evade genuine accountability. In 2019, at the height of the escalating U.S.-China trade war, the Communist Party of China’s (CCP) internal newspaper published a warning that the Chinese government might cut off all exports of critical minerals to the United States. This isn’t just empty rhetoric. In 2010, the CCP followed through on a similar threat, using a minor diplomatic scuffle with Japan to temporarily halt critical mineral exports to the country.
The opportunity to seize further control over the world’s supply of these critical minerals, particularly lithium, is a determining factor in China’s cozying up to the Taliban. If the CCP successfully aligns itself with the Taliban and brokers a productive relationship to tap the nation’s mineral resources, China will gain a nearly insurmountable leg up in the global clean energy arms race.
Allowing CCP influence over…
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