China is building a military training camp in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, according to anonymous defense sources cited by South China Morning Post, on August 29th.
According to the unnamed source, the project is entirely Beijing funded and aims to assist Afghanistan in improving its “counterterrorism” efforts. More than one unnamed source reportedly spoke to South China Morning Post. One of them claimed that once the camp is completed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will most likely send at least one battalion (500 people) to the isolated Wakhan Corridor. “Construction of the base has started, and China will send at least one battalion of troops, along with weapons and equipment, to be stationed there and provide training to their Afghan counterparts,” one of the sources claimed.
The corridor is a narrow strip of inhospitable and barely accessible land extending about 350km (220 miles) from the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan to China’s region of Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities have carried out sweeping crackdowns on Uygur militant groups in recent months.
This would be China’s first military camp in Afghanistan in modern history. The country is infamously known as the “graveyard of empires” due to being so notoriously difficult to conquer and govern. However, as reported by South China Morning Post, Afghanistan has become increasingly important for China’s security, as well as for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure plan.
The unnamed defense official later noted that a completion date for the base was not yet determined and that the base would likely have a slightly different role than that of Beijing’s first overseas military base in the East African nation of Djibouti.
The unnamed sources cited by the South China Morning Post said that the Afghanistan base would have a different role, because the training camp is located close to Xinjiang. According to the anonymous officials, Beijing sees Xinjiang as the main source of the “three forces” – separatism, terrorism and extremism – responsible for a series of violent attacks in recent years.
In 2017, China opened its first ever overseas military base in Djibouti, which according to Xinhua was “meant for supply missions” and was not a “military outpost built to boost the country’s military presence and play deterrent roles in the region.”
“The Djibouti base has nothing to do with an arms race or military expansion, and China has no intention of turning the logistics center into a military foothold,” Xinhua added.
South China Morning Post also cited Russian news agency Ferghana News, which in January 2018 reported that Beijing would finance a new military base in Badakhshan after defense ministers from the two countries agreed last year to work together to fight terrorism, citing General Davlat Vaziri from Afghanistan’s defense ministry. However, Wu Qian, the Chinese Defense Ministry’s spokesperson denied the claims. “The so-called issue that China is building a military base in Afghanistan is groundless,” he said.
Sputnik cited the Chinese Defense Ministry has also denied reports that Chinese military vehicles, identified as Dongfeng EQ 2050s, were conducting counterterror patrols in Afghanistan. The Military Times reported as early as 2016 of Beijing’s alleged joint mission with Afghan Security forces, after India’s Wion News published images showing said vehicles in Little Pamir in northeastern Afghanistan.
South China Morning Post cited Ahmad Bilal Khalil, a researcher from the Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, who in February 2018 said that China has provided more than $70 million in military aid to Afghanistan in the last three years. He further claimed that Beijing feared that instability in the neighboring country could threaten its growing economic interests across the region.
A Hong Kong military analyst, Song Zhongping, who is also a military commentator for Phoenix television was cited by the South China Morning Post as saying that the military base would benefit both countries. “A key function of the training base will be to strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation and military exchanges between Beijing and Kabul, which is also part of their efforts to stop separatists from infiltrating Xinjiang,” he said.
Song further added that “Afghanistan is very weak on counterterrorism, and the authorities there are worried about a Taliban resurgence, but they can’t do anything about it without help from the US, China and other countries.”