Afghanistan: As China forges new alliances, a new Great Game has begun

a13-iconWilliam Dalrymple writes: As the disappearance of flight MH370 dominated the headlines across China, a party of senior US officials and AfPak experts arrived in Beijing last week for discreet talks with their Chinese counterparts. They were there as part of a little reported but crucial new Sino-American dialogue on Afghanistan, discussing the role China could play there after the US withdrawal. It is an important development in the new Great Game that is already realigning the delicate geopolitical balance of the region.

The public standoff between the world’s two greatest military powers in the South China Sea over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has disguised a growing detente between them both over central Asia. “The Chinese are very much aware that we are now on the same page in Afghanistan,” I was told by a senior state department official with the delegation. “Our interests are now in almost complete alignment there.”

The fledgling dialogue received a huge boost earlier this month when China suffered what one newspaper affiliated with the party described as “China’s 9/11“. A knife attack by a group of eight militants at Kunming station in Yunan province left 29 dead and 140 injured. The authorities stated that the assailants were Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, many of whom want independence for the northwest region of Xinjiang – or East Turkestan, as Uighurs call it.

Tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese have been simmering for years. The Chinese have bulldozed great swaths of Kashgar, the historic Uighur capital, and drafted hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese into the sensitive border region. Like the Tibetans, the Uighurs now find themselves a minority in their own homeland. [Continue reading…]

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