With the conquest of Kabul, the Afghan Taliban have billions of reasons to rejoice. Virtually their seizure of power makes them the owners of an immense, almost untouched mining reserve in the subsoil of Afghanistan. In 2020, the estimated value was between one thousand and three trillion dollars, but in a world at the dawn of the ecological transition – where certain minerals and rare earths are crucial for green development – those resources are much, much more important than their value. monetary in terms of impact on global geopolitical balances.
In 2006, five years after the US military intervention, a group of analysts from the US Geological Survey produced a report with the result of their investigations: in the bowels of the earth lurk 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 million tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earths as well as gold, silver, zinc, lithium and mercury. A treasure practically never exploited due to the political and economic instability of the last twenty years, which has also degraded the transport infrastructure and generally made the country unattractive for foreign investments.
Chinese investors took notice when they lost $ 3 billion in a copper mining project that produced nothing, mainly due to infrastructure problems. Yet China itself has welcomed the new Taliban regime with enthusiasm. A few hours after the capture of Kabul, the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying , said that Beijing was ready to “cooperate amicably”.
“Based on full respect for the sovereignty of Afghanistan and the will of all factions in the country, China has maintained contacts and communications with the Afghan Taliban and played a constructive role in promoting the political solution of the Afghan question,” he added. Hua at a press conference on Monday. On the same occasion, the spokesperson said that the Taliban had said “on several occasions” to “look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan”. At the end of July, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met a delegation led by Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin .
It goes without saying that Beijing benefits from supporting, as they put it, local “sovereignty” and “will” (elements it accuses the West of when criticism of Chinese assertiveness in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet arrives). It is equally clear that, given Afghanistan’s strategic position as a crossroads for Asia, China is interested in maintaining good relations (and extending the New Silk Road there). But when we consider that the Dragon controls the vast majority of rare earth extraction globally, a broader picture begins to emerge, a project of economic – and therefore geopolitical – influence designed for the next decades.
The context is that of the ecological transition, together with the digital one. Elements such as lithium and cobalt are essential for the modern batteries necessary for the decarbonization process, others are used for solar panels and wind turbines, still others are used in the construction of semiconductors, the electronic “brains” necessary for digitization.
Chinese fields account for 35% of global rare earth reserves and in 2018 they met 70% of world needs. To these reserves are added the mining operations that Beijing conducts elsewhere in the world and especially in Africa. ANSA reports that “both the US and Europe [depend] respectively for 80% and 98% on China for the supply of rare earths”. The International Energy Agency estimates that global demand will increase by forty times between 2020 and 2040, together with that of other rare earths, copper, cobalt and other elements of which the Afghan subsoil is very rich. “The Taliban now sit on some of the most important strategic minerals in the world,” Rod Schoonover
told Quartz., head of the ecological safety program at the Council on Strategic Risks, a think tank in Washington, adding that the real question is whether they will be able to harness those resources. Today the country’s infrastructure (such as roads, tracks, power plants) and the economic situation prevent the creation of a healthy mining industry. But if the rapprochement between China and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan announced yesterday by the Taliban translates into Chinese investments in infrastructure and excavations, the commercial (and therefore geopolitical) power of the Dragon in the eyes of the West would swell exponentially.

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