- - Thursday, September 2, 2021

As the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is already signaling its intent to benefit from the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces and the fall of the Afghan government. Just hours after the Taliban seized control, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman asserted that Beijing was ready for “friendly cooperation with Afghanistan.”

Political pundits and elected officials on both sides of the aisle are currently entrenched in the immediate repercussions of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. However, the Biden administration and Congress must not let this near-term chaos obscure the need for long-term strategic planning. 

The Biden administration must take action to ensure that China and Russia are not large-scale economic and strategic beneficiaries of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, especially concerning mineral resources. U.S. taxpayers have already footed the $2.26 trillion bill for nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan, and President Biden should take preventive action to ensure that American investors do not unwittingly fund Chinese and Russian companies that partner with the Taliban to exploit Afghanistan’s vast natural resources.

Authoritarian leaders like China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have a long record of cozying up to—and actively supporting—the world’s most odious and heinous regimes to advance their respective economic, strategic, and military goals. It would be naive to think they are not already planning to align with the Taliban to increase geopolitical influence, project power globally, and undermine the economic and national security of the U.S. and our allies.

Now that a militant, radical Islamic faction controls Afghanistan, the Biden administration should take preemptive action to deter, or at minimum, penalize the CCP and Putin’s Kremlin if they seek to partner with the Taliban to secure Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth and other resources. Such a financial windfall and strategic gain for America’s adversaries—who have rejoiced in Afghanistan’s ongoing havoc—simply cannot be tolerated.

The CCP, in particular, is in a race to dominate global industries and natural resources—notably rare earth minerals and lithium deposits—that are critical to 21st-century economic competitiveness and military superiority. While mostly undeveloped, Afghanistan is replete with these vital resources.

A 2020 analysis stated that “Afghanistan may hold 60 million metric tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements (REEs) such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, and veins of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, and mercury.” The total value of the country’s rare earth metals alone is estimated to be between $1 and $3 trillion.

The U.S. presently imports more than 80 percent of its rare earths from China. These metals are needed to make everything from iPhones to the F-35 Lightning II and are crucial for future electrification of the nation’s transportation system. Continued U.S. dependence on China for the mining and processing these rare earths is politically and economically untenable.

The Biden Administration must make clear that any Chinese or Russian company—including its parent and key subsidiaries—that signs contracts or otherwise agree to do business with the Taliban in strategic resource sectors will be instantly subject to U.S. capital market sanctions and be banned from accessing U.S. investor dollars worldwide.

Moreover, any such company should also be placed on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, denying them access to U.S. equipment, technology, components, and services. These costs may well serve as a deterrent—and force these state-controlled Chinese and Russian companies to make a stark choice between doing business with the Taliban or with the U.S.

There is no way to reverse how the Biden administration withdrew U.S. armed forces from Afghanistan. But there is still time to ensure that our adversaries in Beijing and Moscow do not use America’s capital markets to exploit the fall of the Afghan government.

By taking these preventive measures, the Biden administration can help to ensure that America’s leading adversaries do not realize massive economic and financial benefits—financed by unwitting U.S. investors—from the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Beijing plans for decades ahead. If the U.S. is serious about great power competition, it’s time for Washington to start doing the same.

• Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo. 

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