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China Tries To Mend Relations Between Afghanistan And Pakistan


Top diplomats from Pakistan and Afghanistan met today as part of an effort to solve a long running conflict between those two countries. But what was really interesting about this particular meeting is that China played host. This is the first trilateral meeting among these three countries, and it's a sign that China is positioning itself as a regional peace broker. NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz is with us. Hey, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So, Rob, this relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is really tricky - has been for a long time - and in the past, China's kind of stayed out of it. Why is China getting involved now?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. You know, China usually keeps a low profile when it comes to engaging in international affairs, but there are a few reasons why China's taking a more active role here. You know, the first one is the U.S. Under President Trump, the U.S. has withdrawn from international trade agreements, the Paris climate accord. And his guiding principle of America first has sort of sent the message that the U.S. is now more focused on itself under his administration and less on solving problems abroad. So this is a welcome thing for China's leader Xi Jinping who wants to engage his country more internationally, who wants to build economic partnerships throughout the region.

Secondly, Pakistan and Afghanistan both share borders with China. So it's natural that China wants to improve relations between the two. And then last, you know, China is investing $50 billion in an economic corridor in Pakistan that would link China's remote western region to the Arabian Sea. So China is also interested in discussing whether that corridor could also include Afghanistan, but it wants to wait for the right time to do that.

KING: Should we now view this as a sign that China sees itself as a global superpower that has the ability, the capacity to solve these really complicated global problems?

SCHMITZ: Well, it's a sign that China wants the rest of the world to see it that way. Yeah, I mean, you know, to what extent China is able to deliver results, I think, is another question. China does not have that much experience hosting peace summits like this. And trust is a big issue. This case is a good example.

We've got China also trying to facilitate, you know, talks between, you know, the Taliban and Pakistan - obviously, two Muslim entities. And China's treatment of its own Muslim citizens is a big concern here. So China really needs to earn that trust in the region if it wants to continue to host these types of talks.

KING: All right. So how does China go about doing that - earning trust?

SCHMITZ: Two words - money and infrastructure. China - Chinese leader Xi Jinping's One Belt One Road campaign is all about copying the infrastructure that China built for its own country in the past two decades and then pasting that onto other poorer countries. You know, China's established its own version of the World Bank to handle loans to other countries for that type of development. So the more projects that China works on with other countries like this, the closer the diplomatic ties are. And that's when you begin to build that mutual trust.

KING: It's really interesting. When you pull back from the map, China - I mean, this is a big region, and China has to gain the trust of other countries in that region. What do you think China's neighbors are thinking of all this? Do you think they'll be more open to summits like this Afghanistan-Pakistan summit?

SCHMITZ: I think so. You know, I mean, I think they're looking at this lack of U.S. leadership in the region. And, of course, they're looking at the next best power. And, of course, that's China. You know, China's military is steadily growing. It's built its second aircraft carrier, and it's beefing up its presence in the South China Sea. So it's clear that China wants the region and the world to take its role as a global power very seriously.

And part of being a global power is not just having a strong military, but also engaging neighbors in the region diplomatically. So, yes, this meeting with Afghanistan and Pakistan, while it might not produce results right away, is definitely a sign of a rising and more confident country that others in the region, for better or worse, may have no other choice but to turn to in order to help solve their own regional problems.

KING: NPR's Rob Schmitz. Thank you so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks a lot, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.