Afghanistan: who after NATO?

China’s Afghan Moment

Zhou Yongkang (R, front), a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, holds talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L, front) in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 22, 2012. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Until recently, Beijing’s policy in Afghanistan could be characterized as masterful inactivity: It sat on the sidelines of a war that it wanted neither side to win. But the late September visit by security chief Zhou Yongkang, the first by a senior Chinese leader in almost five decades, is the most visible sign that the U.S. 2014 withdrawal date is bringing that spectator status to an end. As the United States dials down its goal of defeating the Taliban, China could become Afghanistan’s most important mediator and investor.