China sent a flight to bring home 210 of its nationals from Afghanistan, state media reported Friday, as the U.S. military prepares to leave the country and the security situation grows increasingly fraught.
The Global Times newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party said the Xiamen Airlines flight departed July 2 from the capital Kabul and landed in the central province of Hubei. The airline confirmed the report in a post on its Twitter-like Weibo account but offered no additional details.
The Global Times and other reports said 22 of those onboard tested positive for COVID-19, although those numbers did not appear on the National Health Commissions daily report of new cases.
U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31 after nearly 20 years of battling the Taliban. Meanwhile, Chinese companies have invested in Afghan mining and infrastructure, but those assets appear increasingly in jeopardy as the Taliban seize large amounts of territory, possibly placing Kabul at risk.
Amid the US pullout, China appears to be preparing to ramp up its involvement in Afghanistan and with Beijing eyeing the war-torn nation for investment and influence opportunities.
According to The New York Post, in recent weeks, Beijing has been vocal in slamming the United States for pushing forward with its troop withdrawal, citing the deteriorating situation on the ground. Still, it had not made any public commitments regarding a response.
Reportedly, the Kabul authorities have become much more deeply engaged with Chinese leaders as the two work toward a deal to invest in Afghanistan’s infrastructure through China’s international “Belt and Road Initiative."
As per the outlet, the trillion-dollar program has funded multiple projects — generally focusing on hard infrastructures like airports, roads, and seaports- throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. However, it is now being used by China to grow its influence by providing infrastructure loans to poorer countries in return for control over local resources.
The media report stated that the deal would extend the USD 62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the Beijing-led initiative.
“There is a discussion on a Peshawar-Kabul motorway between the authorities in Kabul and Beijing," New York Post quoted the sources. “Linking Kabul with Peshawar by road means Afghanistan’s formal joining of CPEC," it said.