Chinese mining officials have visited Afghanistan in recent weeks to investigate the country’s large lithium and copper deposits. Chinese representatives visited the site to inspect the extraction of the crucial metal for batteries and other technologies to combat the climate crisis.
The Chinese miners’ on-site explorations mark the first step in the collaboration to develop Afghanistan’s potential mineral deposits.
Yu Minghui, director of China’s Arab Economic and Trade Promotion Committee in Kabul, told Global Times that, together with the Ministry of Defense of Afghanistan, special visas were obtained for representatives of the five Chinese companies that arrived in Afghanistan in early November to scout for the precious metal.
Chinese officials have maintained a direct line of communication with the Taliban since August 2021. However, mining projects in Afghanistan have long been hampered by significant logistical and security challenges.
As a result, despite renewed interest, major lithium producers Ganfeng Lithium, the world’s largest lithium producer, and Tianqi Lithium, one of China’s largest listed lithium miners, have denied any involvement in the trip.
Any investment is likely to depend on the Taliban providing adequate security guarantees to Chinese investors. If this is agreed, Afghanistan may well become the next stop on the new Silk Road, and become a powerhouse for lithium and copper production.
Afghanistan is a country rich in mineral resources. However, due to extensive conflicts and undeveloped infrastructure, most of its deposits have not been successfully developed or explored since the 1970s.
In a study by the US Geological Survey conducted between 2004-07, it was concluded that Afghanistan could hold 60 million tons of copper; 2.2 billion tons of iron ore; 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium; and veins of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. The value of these resources is roughly estimated at $ 1- $ 3tn.
With the Taliban’s recent takeover, China has renewed interest in securing these reserves. China has not been shy about non-democratic regimes. The recent visit further shows that it is prepared to fill the void in Western investment in return for access to some of Afghanistan’s richest mineral deposits.