China is reportedly considering deploying military personnel and economic development officials to Bagram airfield according to multiple Western media sources.
Chinese military officials close to the situation spoke to a source that relayed to U.S. News & World Report that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is conducting a feasibility study on sending workers, staff, and troops in Afghanistan, as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and using the former Bagram airfield.
Former U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, spoke to Fox News last week highlighting China’s interest in the country. She also urged the administration to step up its counter-terrorism efforts and reassure its allies that the U.S. will stand by them.
“The first thing you should do is immediately start connecting with our allies, whether it’s Taiwan, whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s Israel, whether it’s India, Australia, Japan, all of them, and reassure them that we will have their back and that we need them as well,” Haley said.
“We need to make sure that we are going on an anti-terrorist effort across the world because we are now going to see — with this moral victory that the jihadists have, you are going to see a heavy recruitment campaign around the world. You are going to see more lone wolf situations,” she explained.
“We need to make sure we are protected. We need to make sure our cybersecurity is strong because actors like Russia are going to continue to hack us because we show no signs of willingness to fight back. We need to watch China because I think you are going to see China make a move for Bagram Air Force Base.”
However, the Chinese have flat out denied that they are in talks with Taliban officials regarding the usage of the Bagram airfield.
“What I can tell you this is purely fake news,” Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday morning.
Bagram was the major hub for the United States during its 20-year deployment to Afghanistan. As soon as the U.S. withdrew from the base in July, the Chinese wasted little time sending an official government news crew to “report” on the “humiliating defeat” of the Americans while getting a first-hand look at the facilities.
Chinese Bases Abroad
The Chinese are rapidly expanding their influence around the world. While they claim to have only one overseas base in Djibouti, something that is oft-repeated in Western news services, they, in practice, have more. China has spent years building artificial reefs and bases in the Spratly Islands, which it claims.
Further, the PLA has signed an agreement that gives the Chinese Navy exclusive rights to a third of the Ream Naval Base in Cambodia. This base, in the shallow Gulf of Thailand waters, protects and controls the shipping lanes in the Malacca Strait, a choke-point that China moves its energy imports through.
In Myanmar, China is planning to construct the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) deep seaport project, which will further boost its presence in the Indian Ocean. The development of the SEZ is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia.
The PLA has already provided the Burmese junta, which conducted a coup against the elected government, with radio, radar, and other military equipment on the Coco Islands.
The islands are about 250 miles south of Yangon where China has reportedly held leasing rights since 1994. The Chinese have a maritime reconnaissance and electronic intelligence station on Great Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal. They are also building a base on Small Coco Island in the Alexandra Channel between the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea north of India’s Andaman Islands. The Chinese base will monitor Indian naval activity in the region.
Beijing has persisted with the myth that its presence in the Coco Islands does not amount to a military base, even though the training and maintenance in the base are handled by China and all the equipment is Chinese.
Therefore, it is likely that if China takes over Bagram Airbase it will downplay its presence as technical support for infrastructure projects.
Many analysts believe that as soon as the Taliban consolidate their hold on the country, they will ask for and receive Chinese assistance.