Chinese Company Seeks Mineral Rights in Afghanistan, 'The Saudi Arabia of Lithium'

Aug 18, 2023

What is Lithium Used For?

Two years after the fall of Afghanistan , Chinese business interests are streaming into the mountainous, war-torn country. They want to tap into what could become the world’s largest source of lithium. That's a mineral. It's needed to build electric car batteries.   

Gochin is a Chinese company. It offered the government $10 billion to mine the mineral. That's according to the ruling Taliban. Gochin says it will give jobs to 120,000 Afghans. They would mine, build new rail lines and roads, and work in new plants.   

China is in a good spot for such a deal. A small part of Afghanistan touches China. So far, the new Afghan government is not being clear about its plans. It says other countries also want its lithium.  

It’s perhaps likely the US isn't one of them. The US took its military out of the country in 2021. That left Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the brutal Taliban. Some US foreign policy experts wonder what might have been. In 2010, the Pentagon called Afghanistan "the Saudi Arabia of lithium."  

“In an alternate universe, our projects could’ve been generating meaningful employment … and empower the Afghan people to govern themselves,” Paul Brinkley told The Washington Post. He's the former US deputy undersecretary of defense.  “Instead we’ll have Chinese companies mining lithium to feed a supply chain that will ultimately sell it back to the West, all in a world where there’s simply not enough lithium."

Others aren't so sure. China has put money in Afghan projects that had no results. That includes a $3 billion deal in 2007 to mine copper in an area. That site remains untouched. 

Reflect: How can different countries working together on projects benefit both their economies and the people involved? 

Based on information in the infographic, in 2010 lithium was most commonly used for _______. (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. batteries
b. ceramics and glass
c. lubricating greases
d. air treatment
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