The Western world is going green, no matter the cost to the consumer. At the G7 meeting in Cornwall in June, those attending agreed to redouble their commitments to reducing CO2 emissions as rapidly as possible. For example, the United Kingdom promised there will be no more sales of new cars that use petrol or diesel after 2030. Renewable energy and electric cars are the future, and that future is almost upon us.
Once upon a time, commodities such as salt and gold were essential for an economy to function. More recently, oil has kept the wheels of commerce turning. In the 21st century, the green future that is being mapped out for the West will not be able to function without another precious substance: lithium. This industrial metal is light, it is an excellent conductor and it is essential for building electric car batteries. There is no alternative for it.
Afghanistan has some of the world’s largest deposits of lithium, estimated to be worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. The bad news is that Joe Biden‘s decision to pull American troops out of that country has unilaterally—and literally—handed all of the potential bound up in those lithium deposits to Chinese communists.
Afghanistan’s lithium reserves were first identified during geological studies carried out in the 1980s by the Soviet Union. At that time, the discovery did not resonate with most people because demand for the mineral was fairly low. After the Americans arrived in Afghanistan 20 years ago, they sought to back up the work done decades earlier and, in 2007, the United States Geological Survey discovered vast deposits of iron, gold, copper, cobalt and lithium. This discovery remained largely unknown until 2010. Yet media reports from that year confirmed its significance to modern industry, saying that Afghanistan was on course to be one of the most important mining centers in the world. An internal Pentagon memo that was unearthed at the time even stated that the country could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” It should be noted that Joe Biden was vice president when that memo became widely known.
Almost 15 years after that survey, most of these mineral deposits remain unexploited as a result of the various problems which have overshadowed Afghanistan. Recently, however, rapidly rising commodity prices have proved just how vital lithium has become. This development makes Biden’s irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan even more difficult to comprehend.
Despite its great size, China is surprisingly short on many of the vital minerals it needs to support its modern industrial revolution. To date, its Belt and Road initiative has used Africa to ensure vital supplies for the future, successfully securing the rights to mineral mining in many countries in that continent. In return, African administrations receive revenue for opening up their countries to the Chinese. The fact that some individual African politicians seem to have become extremely wealthy very quickly in recent years is not a coincidence.
I predict that exactly the same thing will happen in Afghanistan. True, there will almost certainly have to be a compromise over the appalling treatment of the 12 million-strong Muslim Uighur minority living in Xinjiang, but I have no doubt that China and Afghanistan will reach an understanding. China is desperate to forge links with the Taliban in order to obtain Afghanistan’s assets as quickly as possible.
Arguably, it has already begun to do so. It was announced this week that a Chinese consortium intends to reopen the Mes Aynak copper mine near Kabul, which is believed to contain some of the largest copper deposits in the world. The consortium, consisting of the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC Group) and another Chinese company, Jiangxi Copper, was awarded a 30-year, $2.9 billion contract in 2008 but halted work because of the pandemic. According to an unnamed source at the state-owned Global Times “We would consider reopening [Mes Aynak] after the situation is stabilised and international recognition, including the Chinese government’s recognition of the Taliban regime, take place.”
This is just the start. Although guaranteeing the future availability and price of any commodity is difficult, in this particular situation one thing seems certain: the West’s green revolution has been dealt a major blow. In strategic terms, this underlines the madness of Biden’s withdrawal decision. Was the president poorly briefed, or simply not up to the job? Whatever the answer, the green revolution that has been planned by every G7 nation has suffered a setback. The blame can be laid squarely at the feet of blundering Joe Biden.