Chinese interest in lithium reserves in Afghanistan
Map of Afghanistan (Archives)

After the withdrawal of foreign forces led by the United States from Afghanistan, Kabul’s interest in the underground wealth owned by the country increased, with the increasing interest of several countries to benefit from them.

Afghanistan has many important raw materials needed by China, one of the most important manufacturing centers and the second-largest economy in the world.

China has sent teams to Afghanistan to conduct field studies on the reserves of lithium metal.


On November 23, the Chinese newspaper “Global Times” published a news item in which it said that representatives of the country’s companies had traveled to Afghanistan on special visas to inspect the areas that contain lithium reserves.

Lithium is a rare metal, and it is widely used in the manufacture of mobile phones and electric car batteries, and obtaining it is very important for China, which is one of the largest producers of mobile phones and cars.

Saudi Lithium!

Afghanistan has reserves of lithium, copper, gold, uranium, bauxite, iron ore, chromium, lead, and zinc, as well as mines for coal, sulfur, marble, soapstone, and plaster.

Afghanistan has the world’s largest reserves of lithium and some other rare metals.

And the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum announced in a report published in 2019, that the country has reserves estimated at 1.9 million tons of rare minerals.

Afghanistan is believed to have the largest reserves of lithium in the world. The US Department of Defense described it, in an internal correspondence in 2010, as “Saudi lithium,” as it put it.

The rare metal is used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries used as a power source in cars, electric trucks and all rechargeable devices.

International interest in Afghanistan

The discussions and meetings that Russia, China, and India are holding with Afghanistan show the intention of these countries and their desire to have a say during this period that followed the American withdrawal.

And in the middle of last August, the Taliban terrorists took control of Afghanistan completely, paralleling the final stage of a US military withdrawal from the country, which was completed at the end of the same month.

India and China, in particular, are seeking to benefit from the rich underground resources that Afghanistan possesses to obtain the raw materials needed for industry.

The Taliban is facing an economic crisis

On the other hand, the interim government set up by the Taliban needs China’s support. As it found itself facing a major economic crisis after taking control of the government after the withdrawal of foreign forces, due to the cessation of financial support and assistance provided by Washington and the United Nations to the former Afghan governments.

Providing direct aid to Afghanistan became difficult with the United Nations declaring the Taliban a “terrorist organization” and listing many of its members on the UN sanctions list for their participation in “terrorist activities”.

The United Nations demands that the “Taliban” allow humanitarian aid to reach those who deserve it directly, without the government distributing it.

The United States froze the assets of the Central Bank of Afghanistan kept in the New York branch of the Federal Reserve (Central Bank).

And the “Taliban” quickly needs financial resources to establish the caliphate that will enable them to benefit from the underground wealth that the country abounds in.

On the other hand, members of the interim government formed by the Taliban declare their openness to cooperation with China, which they hope will fill the void left by the West with investments, trade, and loans.

Security concerns

Representatives of the Taliban offered security guarantees to Beijing during their meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the Qatari capital, Doha, on October 26-27.

During the meeting, Abdul Ghani Baradar, Deputy Prime Minister of the interim government, stressed that the “Taliban” will never allow the use of Afghan territory to carry out any action that harms China.

The Chinese and Afghan borders are linked through a narrow 76 km long corridor called “Wakhan” that connects Afghanistan and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region inhabited by Uyghur Muslims.

The Chinese administration fears that Afghanistan’s slide into chaos during the new period could cause instability in its border region, and fears that this region will be used by terrorists.

Security guarantees to protect investments

Beijing demands the Taliban to make commitments to ensure the security of its investments in the region, as it fears the recurrence of the security problems that caused the suspension of its investments in the mines of Afghanistan during the period of US control over the country.

In 2008, a consortium of companies led by the Chinese Metal Industries Group took over the management and operation of the Miss Aynak copper mine in Logar state, south of the capital, Kabul.

Disagreements with the Kabul administration, in addition to attacks in the mine area, caused the work to be stopped. Chinese companies are afraid of facing the same problems with the Taliban administration.

Zhou Shijian, former head of the Association of Chinese Exporters and Importers in the Minerals and Chemicals Sector, said he supports his country’s companies to study the possibilities of implementing investment projects in Afghanistan, stressing the importance of the Taliban providing security guarantees to protect workers in those projects.

He added in statements to the Global Times newspaper: “Chinese companies should monitor the situation in Afghanistan well before making an investment decision. The problem is in ensuring security, otherwise, the profits will not compensate for the losses that will be caused by security problems.”


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