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Why China is courting the Taliban

A lithium mine in Chile. Bloomberg/Getty Images

It might be unglamorous but the rising price of lithium matters “quite possibly more than the debacle in Kabul”, says Jeremy Cliffe in The New Statesman. The batteries needed to store and transport sustainable energy are made from the metal, which will be “as fundamental to 21st-century industrial economies as oil was in the 20th century”. China is leading this new resource race: the country developed too late to influence the geopolitics of oil, so at the turn of the millennium it identified electric cars and their components as a future area of influence. Now China has a 42% market share for electric vehicles, while the US has just 11%, and Chinese firms are the world’s biggest lithium producers. 

This “lithium race” explains China’s presence in Africa, and in the “Lithium Triangle” of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, which together are expected to provide up to 70% of the world’s supply by 2025. China provided $43.5bn of loans to Latin America from 2015 to 2019, and has plied the region with its Covid vaccines. The US, which failed to stop Huawei building 5G networks across the same region, has been left in the dust. Even more “galling” is that the budding romance between the Taliban and China might have something to do with the huge lithium deposits buried in Afghan soil.