China’s Role in Stabilizing and Reconstructing Afghanistan: The Case of Illicit Opium Production

SATURDAY: Current Affairs

China’s Role in Stabilizing and Reconstructing Afghanistan: The Case of Illicit Opium Production

Written by Roberta Cucchiaro on January 17, 2011 at Peking University

Afghanistan has today emerged as the world’s opiate and heroin center. As the world’s primary opium producing country, Afghanistan roughly has a 90 percent share of the world’s opium production, making the Golden Triangle region – the mountainous opium-growing area falling within Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and China’s Yunnan Province – less important [1]. While in the past China was primarily concerned with the opium produced and imported from the Golden Triangle regions, today China had to turn its attention to the surge of narcotics trafficking from the so-called Golden Crescent, the opium producing region including Afghanistan and parts of Iran and Pakistan. With the Golden Crescent replacing the Golden Triangle as the world’s largest opium producing area, a new drug trafficking route has also emerged since 2005, linking Afghanistan and Central Asia to China through China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region [2].

Due to these recent developments, China increasingly views drug trafficking as a major threat to its national security, its economy, as well as its domestic and regional stability. Undoubtedly, non-traditional security threats such as drug trafficking and organized crime, have increasingly appeared on China’s decision making agenda. China has been negatively affected by its geographic location as it is at the center of this narcotics nightmare, with North Korea in the Northeast, the Golden Triangle in the South, the Golden Crescent in the East, and Central Asia in the Northwest [3]. Consequently, China has increasingly become a nexus in the Eurasian trafficking, as a consumer, a transit route as well as a source for the export of precursor chemicals [4]. Different reasons for the proliferation of drug trafficking in China since the 1990s blame the 2001 US-led intervention in Afghanistan as well as President Hamid Karzai’s new Afghan government which not only has not been able to fight drug trafficking, but has also caused an increase in poppy cultivation [5]. New routes from Afghanistan have emerged as counter-trafficking efforts in Thailand and the Golden Triangle region have become increasingly successful [6]. The surge of alternate routes through China from Afghanistan have been a cause of concern for the Chinese government as drug abuse, HIV epidemics, money laundering as well as corruption have been on the rise [7]. Moreover, opium trafficking has been often associated with terrorism, playing a primary role in financing the Taliban and consequently threatening China’s national security by deepening linkages between the Afghan Islamic extremist groups and the Uyghur, the Chinese muslim [8].

China has to play a role in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan in order to fight narcoterrorism, protect the wellbeing of the Chinese citizens and guarantee stability in the Central Asian region as well as safeguarding the recent investments undergone by the Chinese government in the region. As a neighboring and powerful country, China has the potential to play a key role in the stabilization process of war-stricken Afghanistan and it is set to become a central and long-term political and economic force in Afghanistan in the coming years [9]. While China is not prone to get involved militarily, it has focused its strength to enhance investment and economic cooperation with Afghanistan, believing that its contribution to the Afghan economy will eventually strengthen the local government and help fight opium production and drug trafficking [10]. The main strategy of the Chinese government towards Afghanistan is to promote the development of the rural regions that grow opium by investing in development projects including infrastructure, construction works as well as mineral extraction. The Chinese developmental projects have all the potential to bring prosperity to the country and most importantly reduce unemployment and poverty, giving the people of Afghanistan an alternative to drug trafficking [11] The approach currently employed by the Chinese government in Afghanistan is a typical developmental model China has been adopting in many parts of the developing world, most notably in Africa, and believes it to be highly successful and efficient in eradicating poverty [12].

The focus of this research is to understand the scope of the Chinese role in stabilizing and reconstructing Afghanistan, aimed at fighting the resulting consequences from the Afghan illegal opium production. In order to understand the nature of the non-traditional security threats China is facing, the research will first look at the current situation in Afghanistan in regards to illicit opium production and how it threatens the stability of the neighboring region. The impact of Afghanistan’s illicit opium production on China domestically will be then evaluated, with a focus on the potential linkages present between the Afghan Taliban and China’s Muslim Uyghur. The research will then take an in depth look at China’s response to prevent a further escalation of the situation deriving from Afghanistan’s opium production. The chapter will explain the emphasis China is putting on economic development rather than military intervention. A conclusion will summarize the main points discussed throughout the research.

The current situation in Afghanistan

China developed moderately good relations with the government of Afghanistan from 1949 through the mid-1970s, however relations collapsed in late 1979 when a pro-Soviet group gained power in Kabul [13]. China had been assisting an anti-Soviet insurgency throughout the Cold War and normalized its relations with Afghanistan only in 1992, even though it reopened the Chinese embassy in Kabul only ten years after, in February 2002 [14]. Throughout the Cold War, Afghanistan had been a battlefield for rivalries and to the present day it remains one of the most unstable regions in the world.

Even though President Karzai officially banned opium production since 2001, following the US-led Enduring Freedom military intervention and the Western-supported Afghan interim administration established in Kabul, opium cultivation has been increasing exponentially causing Afghanistan to be today the world’s primary opium producing country [15]. Afghanistan’s opium production could be seen as the direct outcome of a history of turbulence which is yet to be stabilized. In 2004 for instance, opium cultivation increased by two-thirds compared to the previous years reaching 131,000 hectares, becoming equivalent to 60 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) [16]. Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, Afghanistan has witnessed a rapid increase in opium production and even though by mid-2008 President Karzai’s leadership has been seeing some progress with a 19 percent reduction in opium cultivation from 2007’s 193,000 hectares to 2008’s 157,000 hectares (see Figure 1 below), opium cultivation not only still remains considerably high, but is still a major concern for Afghanistan and its neighbors, China in particular [17]. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production halved throughout 2009 and 2010 with a production remaining stable at 123,000 hectares, which still a significant number nevertheless [18]. The soaring prices due to the decline in production is also an alarming factor causing uncertainty for the productions trends Afghanistan will experience this coming year of 2011 [19].

Figure 1: Source UNODC 2010 (a). World Drug Report 2010. Note: Although eradication took place in 2004, the data was not officially reported to UNODC.

The drug trade is considered a major revenue for anti-government forces, organized crime and widespread public corruption contaminating power. Drug trafficking remains a serious threat to the future of Afghanistan, damaging economic growth and fueling violence and insurgency.

Moreover, the illicit drug economy is believed to indirectly fuel terrorism. The Taliban government has increasingly become involved in drug trafficking and many observers even saw the Taliban edict banning opium cultivation in 2000 as a maneuver from the Taliban aimed at restricting supply so that the prices of opium could shoot up and profits could become higher [20]. Evidence regarding Afghanistan’s role in providing a sanctuary for al-Qaeda during the Taliban, was confirmed by Bashir Nurzai, the number-one drug baron in Afghanistan, who after being caught in New York in April 2005 admitted that al-Qaeda members were used in drug trafficking [21]. All factors which undeniably cause terrorism are also cause for the illicit drug economy developed in Afghanistan. Internal or transnational conflicts, oppressive regimes, authorities’ corruption, religious strife, ethnic contentions, the disintegration of the state as well as the lack of economic development projects all encourage Afghanistan’s instability [22].

In order to fight the Afghan illicit opium cultivation, the international community cooperating with Karzai’s government could promote the production of legal agricultural goods such as saffron, fruit and grain as a substitute to opium [23]. However, as a research by Bulent Aras and Sule Toktas explains, there are today in Afghanistan several structural factors which still encourage illegal agriculture over alternative methods [24]. The two researchers explain that Afghanistan’s small-scale banking credit system is mainly dependent on the opium economy [25]. As the opium agriculture is resistant to weather conditions and has a somewhat stability in its pricing, it is very attracting to farmers. Moreover, local drugs traffickers who belong to international drug networks, are able to pre-finance opium production by prepaying the farmers with all their necessities for the next year’s harvest. The close family ties in Afghanistan and the range of people that indirectly or directly are involved in drug trafficking is incredibly vast, making opium production a revenue from which the majority of Afghans can benefit. The promotion of alternative crops instead, is a timely process and it takes many years before it can become self-supportive, profitable and sustainable. While opium production does not need particular environmental conditions, products such as saffron, fruit and grain are highly sensitive to the weather and their harvesting is much timely [26]. When searching for alternative agricultural cultivations, it is important to keep in mind that opium-eradication campaigns, if not wisely implemented, can be a cause of economic hardship and social dislocation [27]. Such was the case in Laos when the rush to achieve opium eradication during the first half of the decade, caused an increase in poverty in the countryside areas [28] Even the later Chinese efforts promoting rubber planting in Laos to foster development, took several years before they could be successful [29] Eradicating opium cultures without guaranteeing the success of alternative cultivations could not only lead the population to grow strong sentiments against interference, but also fuel international terrorism resulting from an unhappy population.

A different alternative instead is presented by Peter van Ham and Jorrit Kamminga who have been promoting the champaign for the “poppy for peace”, whereby poppy crops can be used to produce medicines such as morphine and codeine which, as they are high-demand painkillers of which not even Afghanistan produces for its own market, could not only promote Afghanistan’s stabilization, but also help meeting the world demand of such medicines [30]. As eradication usually pushes the prices up and makes opium production an even more lucrative market and extremely attractive option for the poorest farmers, Afghanistan could instead use the expertise of its farmers to divert part of the existing illegal opium industry to the domestic and international medicine markets. In several regions in India, for instance, farmers are given a license to grow opium which is then directed to the pharmaceutical use [31]. Even though it is estimated that as much as 20 percent of Indian licit opium production is diverted into drug trafficking, the figure is small enough to draw positive conclusion from such approach [32]. If alternative agricultural cultivations are promoted while at the same time pushing the farmers to use their expertise to cultivate opium for medical usage, once the alternative cultivations reach a level of self-sustainability, the farmers can be able to switch from one method to the other without being negatively affected and risking to loose their profit.

Whether it is the promotion of alternate agricultural products or is the encouragement to produce medicines instead of drugs, the narcoterrorism which results from Afghanistan’s opium production has to be fought. The nature of the opium production is a threat to the establishment of the rule of law and the reconstruction process in Afghanistan. Lawlessness breeds poverty and poverty, instability and drug trafficking are interlinked together in a vicious cycle which worsens with the political instability fomented by terrorism. In order to establish an effective state structure, there must be achieved an end to the conflict, an increase in economic development and a replacement of the illegal production of opium, which unfortunately today still represents half of Afghanistan’s GDP.

The impact of Afghanistan’s illicit opium cultivation on Chinese politics

As China itself is suffering from Afghanistan’s illegal opium production, the Chinese government has recently been playing a fundamental role in Afghanistan by promoting investment and economic growth, trying to promote stability in the region and consequently diminish the threat to its own domestic stability. As China is today the largest seizure state of heroin in the world and ninth largest of opium, one of the Chinese government priorities is to address the increasing influx of narcotics from Afghanistan and try to ameliorate the situation so to avoid further drug trafficking [33]. In 2004, the Chinese government estimated that as much as 20 percent of the heroin available in China originated from Afghanistan, a figure which is likely to be much higher today since Afghanistan’s opium production has been on the rise [34].

The increasing amount of illicit drugs entering China has however coincided with the growing demand within China for those drugs. In 2008 it was estimated by the Chinese government that narcotics use increased by 9.2 percent [35]. It is true in fact that since Deng Xiaoping’s liberalizing policies, China has undergone dramatic changes in those last three decades. The mix of economic, social, cultural and political-legal changes as well the recent culture clash experienced by Chinese people has bred the conditions for drugs consumption as well as opened up opportunities for illegitimate businesses such as drug trafficking [36]. In view of the recent developments, China has strengthened its strategy fighting drug trafficking and China currently has 9 percent of its police force working on drug trade and its efforts to combat this illicit economy have risen from US$1 million per year in the mid-1990s to US$17.5 million in 2003 [37]. To fight the illegal drug trafficking originating from Afghanistan, China and Afghanistan have exchanged police liaison officers enhancing the information exchange between the two countries and furthering cooperation between the two police forces. To fight drug addiction at home the Chinese government had already in 1990 created the National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) which aimed at combating drug abuse and narcotics trafficking through a six-tier strategy comprising of strengthening its legislation, cracking down on drug-related crimes, employing stricter controls over precursor chemicals, treating and rehabilitating drug addicts, raising consciousness among the Chinese people against drug use and finally developing international drug control [38]. After having witnessed the high level of opium production in Afghanistan, China has definitely strengthened its new war on drugs both domestically and internationally and has made substantial efforts not only to decrease drug trafficking and consumption within China but also to strengthen cooperation with Afghanistan as well as promoting multilateral efforts through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As not only China is negatively affected by the consequences of the drug trade which is increasing corruption, threatening economic and political security as well as public health, the SCO, like China, has increasingly been calling for multilateral efforts focusing on investment projects to reconstruct Afghanistan [39].

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, henceforth referred to as Xinjiang, remains a major concern for the Chinese leadership as it has reported a sharp rise in drug consumption and drug-related cases of HIV and AIDS due to its proximity to Afghanistan [40]. Since the Golden Crescent has overtaken the Golden Triangle in drug production, Xinjiang has become the main entry point for narcotics into China and one of the main transfer routs for drugs coming from Afghanistan bound for Europe, North America and Russia [41]. In 2008 for instance, Xinjiang’s local police prosecuted 1,563 drug-related cases, arrested almost 2,000 suspects, and seized 144 kilograms of imported heroin which was transported from both Afghanistan and Pakistan [42].

The Chinese government perceives the links between illegal drug sales and terrorism as the main threat to its national security [43]. The strengthening of the Islamist terrorist groups in Afghanistan linked to the illicit opium cultivation, risks empowering Uyghur militants and therefore threatens both China’s domestic stability as well as its newly acquired economic interests in Afghanistan [44]. Already in the mid-1990s the Chinese government was increasingly alarmed by the emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and their ties with Islamic extremist groups advocating independence for China’s Xinjiang region [45]. During this time, Xinjiang experienced endemic violence, including assassinations and bombings from some Uyghur nationalists who, supported by the Taliban, sought to establish the “East Turkestan Islamic Republic” [46]. The violence continues also today and the Chinese government has repeatedly accused the Taliban of providing training to hundreds of “East Turkestan terrorists” in Afghanistan [47].

Due to the high levels of opium production fueling terrorism both at a domestic and international level, as well as Xinjiang becoming a major transit route of illicit narcotics and the deepening ties between the Uyghur nationalists and the Taliban, the region’s stability has grown to be a big headache for the Chinese leadership. While several researchers believe the lack of infrastructure in Xinjiang and across the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan prevents the drug trafficking growing to be an even larger trade, it seems from different developmental models that improved transportation and communication infrastructure in Xinjiang as well as encouraged developmental projects and investments could make the region rise to develop into an economic hub where it would be easier for local police to trace down illegal trade and combat not only corruption, but also terrorism [48]. The People Liberation Army (PLA) should be playing a major role in the counter-narcotics operations in the region of Xinjiang. As Beijing has being prioritizing defense and unconventional units in particular, the PLA would not be short of funds to effectively address the issue of drug trafficking through Xinjiang [49]. Moreover, by effectively combating illicit drug trafficking in Xinjiang, China would not only benefit through domestic stability but would also be able to boost its image amongst NATO members as countering drug trafficking in Xinjiang indirectly also counters both the illicit opium cultivation in Afghanistan as well as terrorism.

China’ s role in stabilizing and reconstructing Afghanistan

The Chinese government’s role in promoting the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan is economic in nature, it avoids assuming a major military role that could align China with the anti-Taliban coalition [50]. The main pillar of the Chinese foreign policy is the principle of non-interference with others’ domestic affairs and it wants to be associated the least possible with the NATO forces carrying on the US-led intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 [51]. Similarly to how China has been shaping its relations with the majority of African states in the recent years, the Chinese government prioritizes economic development over political interference in the domestic affairs of the countries it invests in. The Chinese contribution to Afghanistan’s economic recovery is likely to strengthen the Afghan government over time. Not surprisingly, President Karzai’s leadership sees foreign trade and investment as perhaps the best means for reducing their dependence on international assistance, which to the present day still covers 90 percent of the Afghan government’s budgetary expenditures and might even further increase with the expansion of the Afghan National Army and National Police set to combat the Taliban insurgency [52]. Afghanistan itself emphasized the importance of Chinese economic investments rather than military support. Without economic development, Afghanistan will not be able to rise its people from poverty and efficiently implement state building practices. Illicit drug production could be highly decreased through the development of different regions within Afghanistan, prioritizing the development of the regions which have the highest opium cultivations. With a stronger economy not dependent on drug trafficking and a stronger government, controls to fight illegal movements as well as terrorism can be more efficient.

The basis for the current Sino-Afghan cooperation is based on the 2006 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-Neighborly Relations [53]. Economic relations preceded formal political exchanges and since 2001 China and Afghanistan have lifted custom duties on 278 commodities [54]. Since 2005 the value of Chinese exports to Afghanistan has more than tripled, but the relationship is quite unbalanced as while the Chinese exports to Afghanistan reached $152 million in 2008, the exports from Afghanistan to China were only $3 million [55]. With the strengthening of the local Afghan economy through developmental projects, the unbalanced import- export relationship is however set to reach a more stable and fair level. Both due to the geographical proximity and Afghanistan’s abundance in natural resources, engaging in economic activities is the safest choice through which China can play a role in promoting Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The US geological survey reported in 2007 that Afghanistan has abundance of copper and iron and holds large deposits of industrially important minerals like mercury, cobalt, gold and lithium [56]. Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is estimated to be worth up to $1 trillion and if engaged through the appropriate approach, the region could be transformed into one of the world’s most important mining centers [57]. China definitely wants to be part of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and already in 2008 Chinese investments in Afghanistan saw an exponential increase from $100 thousand in 2007 to $113.91 million in 2008 [58].

The $3.4 billion investment by the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) in the Aynak copper mine, in Logar province, south of Kabul, is not only China’s most important investment in Afghanistan, but also Afghanistan’s largest direct foreign investment in its history [59]. In order to understand the vastness of the investment, it is interesting to note that the $3.4 billion invested by MCC are equivalent to 20 percent of all foreign aid to Afghanistan since 2001 [60]. MCC won the contract for a 30-year lease and not only is committed to the copper mining activities, but has also promised to invest in the infrastructure building and improvement of the nearby area [61]. In addition, MCC is committed to train and employ the local workforce and approximately among the 5,000 workers directly employed, 90 percent are Afghani [62]. Around 15,000-20,000 people are expected to indirectly benefit from the Chinese project and taking into consideration Afghanistan’s patrilineal kinship-based societal structure, the income produced by those jobs related to the Aynak copper mine can be seen as ramifying among the different strata of society [63]. The site around the Aynak copper mine is believed to hold one of the biggest copper deposits of the world and according to Afghanistan and the British Geological Survey, the copper deposit contains 240 million tons of material with a high grade of 2.3 percent copper [64]. By investing in the copper mine, China has not only strengthened its hold on one of the world’s biggest copper deposits and guaranteed a secure source of minerals its growing economy needs, but has also contributed to the Afghan economy by establishing itself as Afghanistan’s preeminent business partner, by being the single largest source of tax payments and by promising thousand of new jobs which could provide an alternative job to opium producing farmers.

Even though the economic relationship between China and Afghanistan started with high unbalances, the recent developments lead to believe that a more mutual-beneficial future is possible for both. While Afghanistan is a substantial source of natural energy resources and the Afghan government is seeking foreign investment, China aims to expand its access to energy assets in the region to not only fuel its thirsty economy, but also improve the economy in Afghanistan to create a more stable environment. It is in China’s interests to promote the stabilization of Afghanistan as more stable is the region, the more secure are its resources as well as the land-based transportation routs linking them to China. For instance, in December 2009, China opened a major energy pipeline transporting natural gas from Turkmenistan passing through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan as well as regions which are relatively close to Afghanistan [65]. If the stability of Afghanistan is not guaranteed, the Chinese pipeline is at risk of being attacked by guerillas operating from the Afghan territory [66].

Deriving from its own economic experience, China believes its own approach to development can be highly successful. It must not be forgotten that China, in deep contrast to aid- receiving African countries, has been able to move hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty throughout its last thirty years of economic reforms. China holds that by encouraging development through engaging in resource-backed development loans, both China and the receiving country can benefit. China benefits as it receives the resources it needs and the receiving country benefits by China’s major infrastructure developmental projects contributing to the wellbeing of the society. Historically, China has already experienced the success of such approach as the 1980 resource-back loans from the Japanese, financed six major railways, port and hydroelectric projects which helped China rebuild its transportation routs essential to a developing economy [67]. China today is engaging in this approach most notably in Africa, where highly oil-rich countries such as Angola and Nigeria are receiving an unprecedented amount of investments from China which benefit their economies and their people at large. The Chinese success in Africa can be brought also in Afghanistan. China’s potential as an economic contributor must be enhanced to strengthen the Afghan economy as well as state structure.

The Chinese strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and fight the opium cultivation linked to terrorism, does not include military intervention. The Chinese leadership holds that the regional environment and present situation does not encourage China undertaking direct and forceful measures in Afghanistan, with the fear that such approach instead of promoting stability, would actually instigate the opposite effect. An expanded Chinese security presence in Central Asia could clash with the interests of the other regional players largely involved, such as India and Russia [68]. Moreover, a stronger approach in Afghanistan would ally China with the NATO countries against the Taliban and might rise resentment and interlinkages between anti-government Afghan and Uyghur separatists [69] A negative diplomatic fallout could result from a strong and militarily Chinese engagement in Afghanistan and this is undoubtedly not in China’s interests. The main weakness for China in its relation with Afghanistan is its dependence on NATO forces to guarantee the relative stability of Afghanistan, limiting the potential for a Taliban insurgency [70]. However, China has the potential to strengthen its economic interests and developmental projects in Afghanistan in order to reach a level of mutual-dependency as well as encouraging a long-run economic strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. By not aligning itself with the NATO countries, the Chinese leadership is able to hold excellent ties with President Karzai’s government as well as not excluding the possibility of normalizing relations with the Taliban should it regain power in Kabul once the NATO forces withdraw [71]. By investing in economic development instead of interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, China guarantees its growing commercial presence in the region as well as not risking to find itself in an awkward bargaining situation once the NATO forces leave [72].

While China is not going to intervene in Afghanistan unilaterally, there is hope for a multilateral effort amongst the SCO countries to fight narcoterrorism. The combined efforts of the member countries of the SCO could be used to accelerate Afghanistan’s reconstruction which would benefit both Afghanistan and the neighboring region, boosting the economic potential of Central Asia [73]. Following the SCO Special conference on Afghanistan held in Moscow on March 2009, the SCO-Afghanistan Action Plan was implemented, calling for the joint cooperation to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime [74]. Despite the recent proposals from the SCO to launch anti-narcotics initiatives, such efforts have not been very effective. Mainly due to the institutional weakness of the SCO as a regional organization emphasizing non-interference, it lacks the necessary mechanism to effectively enforce its initiatives [75]. What however the SCO can work on successfully, is encouraging economic development. Collaboration between the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan should be a priority to incorporate Afghanistan in the economic wellbeing of the SCO. The SCO’s regional economic wellbeing is intertwined with the development of Afghanistan’s economy and vice versa [76]. Promoting investments and making efforts to guarantee the stable investment environment in Afghanistan could be a breakthrough in the history of Afghanistan’s reconstruction process.


The Afghanistan leadership has on several occasions expressed its desire to broaden its economic investments with its neighbors. The time of the military presence of NATO countries should now be replaced by a time of strong economic ties favoring the general wellbeing of the Afghan people by creating more jobs. By creating an alternative to farming opium cultivations, new investments can indirectly diminish the strength of terrorism as the revenues from illegal drug productions lower and less incentive is left for the people to search richness in the shadow sectors of their economy.

China is concerned for the safeguard of the already deep economic investments it has been undergoing in Afghanistan, it fears the impact drug trafficking can have on its domestic politics as well as the ties between the Taliban, fueled by the illicit opium economy, and the Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang and it is afraid of what the future of Afghanistan will look like once the NATO forces have to withdraw [77]. In order to guarantee the success of a favorable situation, China has been prioritizing economic incentives over a military role. China has being investing in economic developmental projects which are meant to promote growth and indirectly fight drug-trafficking and all its related problems.

Recently, Chinese President Hu Jintao has identified the five priority areas where China and Afghanistan should cooperate in order to obtain a positive partnership of good-neighborliness [78]. President Hu called for the strengthening of bilateral ties, the promotion of economic collaboration, the deepening cooperation in personnel training, education, public health and culture, the enhancing security and policy collaboration with the particular focus on fighting drug-trafficking, terrorism and separatism as well as coordinating in multilateral affairs within the framework of the SCO [79].

The Chinese leadership believes its approach towards Afghanistan helps promote prosperity. The economic assistance deriving from the Chinese investments help promote Afghanistan’s security by reducing unemployment and poverty. Especially within the ‘Washington Consensus’ framework, the Chinese approach to development is unique, and there is high hope that also in Afghanistan, just like in sub-Saharan Africa, the Chinese economic incentives can increase the people’s wellbeing. Finally, it is important that China also emphasizes its counter-narcotics efforts and focuses on developing new investment projects in regions which show high opium production levels. By increasing development in such areas, the Chinese investments would be able to foster development there where it is most needed. China’s counter-narcotics legislation, international cooperation as well as strict controls on the transit of narcotics into China is of primary importance to help the Chinese economic investments in Afghanistan develop within a less corrupt and illicit environmental framework.

The piece has not been published and cannot be quoted. If interested in obtaining further information or quoting rights please contact the author at roberta.cucchiaro [at]


1 Swanström, Niklas and Yin He, 2006. China’s War on Narcotics: Two Perspectives – Silk Road Paper. Central Asia- Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, [online] December 2006. Available at: new/docs/Silkroadpapers/2006/0612PRCNarcotics.pdf [Accessed 1 December 2010] p.5

2 Li, Xiaokun, 2007. Fighting with Challenges for a Better Future, China Daily Online, [online] August 21. Available at: [Accessed 3 December 2010]

3 Hong Lu, Terance D. Miethe and Bin Liang, 2009. China’s drug practices and policies: regulating controlled substances in a global context. Ashgate Publishing Limited: Surrey, England p.186

4 Swanström, Niklas and Yin He, 2006. p.5

5 Asplund, Erik and Anjelika Mamytova, 2004. Country Factsheet: Eurasian Narcotics – China 2004. Silk Road Studies Program, [online]. Available from China.pdf [Accessed 10 December 2010]

6 Asplund, Erik and Anjelika Mamytova, 2004.

7 Asplund, Erik and Anjelika Mamytova, 2004.

8 Aras, Bulent and Sule Toktas, 2008. Afghanistan’s Security: Political Process, State-Building and Narcotics. Middle East Policy, 15/2, pp. 39-52; Wayne, Martin I., 2007. Five Lessons from China’s War on Terror, Joint Force Quarterly, No. 47 (4th Quarter), pp. 42-54

9 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. Fixing Afghanistan: what role for China. Noref Policy Brief, [online] No. 7 June 2010. Available at: China [Accessed 1 December 2010]

10 Jamestown Foundation 2010. Karzai’s State Visit Highlights Beijing’s Afghan Priorities., [online] 16 April. Available at: tx_ttnews[tt_news]=36265&tx_ttnews[backPid]=414&no_cache=1 [Accessed 10 December 2010]

11 Rubin, Barnett R., 2007. Saving Afghanistan, Foreign Affairs, 86/1, p. 68

12 Kleponis, Greg (Colonel USAF) 2009. China’s role in the stabilization of Afghanistan. Strategic Studies Institute. [online] Available at: [Accessed on 2 December 2010]

13 Segal, Gerald. China and Afghanistan, Asian Survey, 21/11, p. 1161

14 MOFA, 2010. China and Afghanistan. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, [online] 25 August. Available at: [Accessed on 5 December 2005]

15 Chowvy, Pierre-Anaud, 2006. Afghanistasn’s Opium Production in Perspective. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 4/1, p. 21

16 Goodhand, Jonathan, 2005. Frontiers of War: the Opium Economy in Afghanistan, Journal Of Agrarian Change, 5/2, pp. 192

17 UNODC 2009. Afghanistan Opium Winter Assessment 2009. [online] Available at: frontpage/2010/September/afghan-opium-production-halves-in-2010-according-to-unodc-annual-survey.html [Accessed 5 December 2010] p.1 ; UNODC 2010 (a). World Drug Report 2010. [online] Available at: documents/wdr/WDR_2010/World_Drug_Report_2010_lo-res.pdf[Accessed 17 December ! 2010] p.138

18 UNODC 2010 (b). Afghan production halves in 2010, according to UNODC annual survey. UNODC News, [online] 30 September. Available at: halves-in-2010-according-to-unodc-annual-survey.html [Accessed 5 December 2010]

19 UNODC 2010 (b).

20 Mohapatra, Nalin Kumar, 2007. Political and Security Challenges in Central Asia : The Drug Trafficking Dimension, International Studies, 44/2, p.160

21 Felbab-Brown, Vanda, 2005. Afghanistan: When Counternarcotics Undermines Counterterrorism, Washington Quarterly, 28/4, p. 60

22 Chowvy, Pierre-Anaud, 2006

23 Aras, Bulent and Sule Toktas, 2008. p.45

24 Aras, Bulent and Sule Toktas, 2008. p.45

25 Aras, Bulent and Sule Toktas, 2008. p.45

26 Aras, Bulent and Sule Toktas, 2008. p.46

27 Cohen, Paul T., 2009. The post-opium scenario and rubber in northern Laos: Alternative Western and Chinese models of development. International Journal of Drug Policy, No. 20, p. 425

28 Cohen, Paul T., 2009. p.426

29 Cohen, Paul T., 2009. p.426

30 Ham, Peter van and Jorrit Kamminga, 2006-07. Poppies for Peace: Reforming Afghanistan’s Opium Industry, The Washington Quarterly, 30/1, pp. 69-81

31 Ham, Peter van and Jorrit Kamminga, 2006-07. p. 75

32 Ham, Peter van and Jorrit Kamminga, 2006-07. p. 75

33 Swanström, Niklas and Yin He, 2006. p.5

34 Fox, John, 2008. Can China Save Afghanistan? European Council on Foreign Relations, [online] 29 September. Available at: [Accessed on 15 December 2010]

35 Xinhua, 2009. Drug Crime on the Increase in China, Xinhua, [online] February 25. Available at: [Accessed on 10 December 2010]

36 Hong Lu, Terance D. Miethe and Bin Liang, 2009. p. 185

37 Clarke, Ryan 2008. Narcotics Trafficking in China: Size, Scale, Dynamic and Future Consequences, Pacific Affairs, 81/1 p. 88

38 Clarke, Ryan 2008. p. 89

39 Migranyan, Azganush A., 2009. Reassessing the SCO Economic Security in the Context of the “Afghan Factor”. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 7/34, p. 18

40 Xinhua, 2007. Golden Crescent’ Drug Spell Plagues China’s Northwest, Xinhua, [online] September 1. Available at: [Accessed on 10 December 2010]

41 Li, Xiaokun, 2007.

42 Lei, Xiaoxun and Zhu Zhe, 2009. Xinjiang Targets Drug Trafficking. China Daily Online, [online] March 10. Available at: [Accessed 3 December 2010]

43 Weitz, Richard, 2010. The Limits of Partnership: China, NATO and the Afghan War. China Security, [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 December 2010]

44 Haider, Ziad, 2005. Sino-Pakistan Relations and Xinjiang’s Uighurs: Politics, Trade, and Islam along the Karakoram Highway, Asian Survey, 45/4, p. 533.

45 Wayne, Martin I., 2007.

46 Wayne, Martin I., 2007.

47 MOFA, 2001. Foreign Ministry Spokesman’s Press Conference. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, [online] 23 November. Available at: [Accessed on 5 December 2005]

48 Authors such as Ryan Clarke (in Clarke, Ryan 2008) hold that improved infrastructure can enhance the operational capacities of narcotics traffickers. However, the Chinese development model, whereby economic developmental projects stabilize a country by providing development to the population, has proved to be highly successful in sub- Saharan Africa in getting thousand of people out of extreme poverty. When extreme poverty is eradicated, illegal traffickings are also often diminished.

49 Clarke, Ryan 2008. p.93

50 Jamestown Foundation 2010.

51 Weitz, Richard, 2010.

52 Jamestown Foundation 2010.

53 MOFA, 2008. Treaty of China-Afghanistan Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighborly Relations Takes Effect. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, [online] 14 August. Available at: eng/zxxx/t484518.htm [Accessed on 5 December 2005]

54 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. p. 2

55 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. p. 2

56 US Geological Survey, 2007. Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan, Department of the Interior, [online] press release 2007, 13 November 2007, Available at: ID=1819 [Accessed 5 December 2010]

57 Risen, James, 2010. US identifies vast mineral riches in Afghanistan. The New York Times Online, [online] 13 June. Available at: [Accessed 15 December 2010]

58 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. p. 6

59 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. p. 3

60 Kleponis, Greg (Colonel USAF) 2009. p. 1

61 Pantucci, Raffaello, 2010. China’s Afghan Dilemma, Survival, 52/4, p.22

62 Kleponis, Greg (Colonel USAF) 2009. p.2

63 Kleponis, Greg (Colonel USAF) 2009. p.2

64 Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Mines, 2006. “Request for Expression of Interest Aynak Copper Deposit,” [online] Available at: request_for_EOI_v7a_enGA.pdf [Accessed on 1 December 2010]

65 Jamestown Foundation 2010.

66 Jamestown Foundation 2010.

67 Kleponis, Greg (Colonel USAF) 2009. p.5

68 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. p. 5

69 Torjesen, Stina, 2010. p. 5

70 Weitz, Richard, 2010.

71 Weitz, Richard, 2010.

72 Pantucci, Raffaello, 2010.

73 Knyazev, Alexander, 2009. The Afghan Issue in the Politics of Eurasian Great Powers: Russia, China, India and Iran. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 8/1, p. 14

74 Khan, Simbal, 2009. Stabilization of Afghanistan: U.S.- NATO Regional Strategy and the Role of the SCO. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 7/3, p. 14

75 Cooley, Alexander, The Stagnation of the SCO Competing Agendas and Divergent Interests in Central Asia, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo, [online] no. 85, 2009. Available at: 79067.html [Accessed 20 December 2010]

76 Migranyan, Azganush A., 2009. p. 19

77 Knyazev, Alexander, 2009. p. 12-13

78 Jamestown Foundation 2010.

79 Jamestown Foundation 2010.


2 thoughts on “China’s Role in Stabilizing and Reconstructing Afghanistan: The Case of Illicit Opium Production

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.