Since last November, Afghan pine nuts have become greatly sought after in China. The popularity of this nutritious snack among online shoppers has made to the top of the list of trending topics on Chinese social media a few times. Even to this day, Afghan pine nuts remain a gourmet sensation on the Internet. All of this is made possible by an air corridor China opened up for importing pine nuts from Afghanistan, which has since become a key transportation route and symbol for Chinese help and assistance to the Afghan people. The air corridor also serves as a bridge of friendship connecting the people of the two countries.
During a live-stream sales event on the evening of 6th November, around 120,000 cans, or 26 tons of Afghan pine nuts were sold out within just two hours, creating a sales record of 1,000 cans per minute on average. Some online shoppers enthused about the possibility of "buying up all the pine nuts in Afghanistan" as a way of conveying support and well wishes for the Afghan people. People posted messages such as "buy a handful of Afghan pine nuts to extend a helping hand to the Afghan people", "I want to buy Afghan pine nuts to help the Afghan people", "I'd definitely buy some Afghan pine nuts if it can help the Afghan farmers", "if every Chinese buys one can of Afghan pine nuts to reciprocate the friendly sentiments of the interim government of Afghanistan, we as a country can easily buy 1.4 billion cans", "wish the Afghan economy recover soon and Afghanistan peace and prosperity" and so on. These simple yet heart-warming words and gestures embody the genuine friendship of the Chinese people to the Afghan people. Such warmth and friendly sentiments stem from the sympathy that pours from the heart of the Chinese people for the Afghan people.
The sudden change of situation in Afghanistan in August exacerbated the difficulty facing the export of Afghan pine nuts, which virtually stopped. This was a deadly blow to the wholesale dealers and a disaster for the livelihood of tens of thousands of Afghan people. In response to the request of the interim government of Afghanistan, China set about importing Afghan pine nuts as a special priority despite pressure from various quarters in the most expeditious way possible. By 21st December, 1,500 tons of Afghan pine nuts had been shipped to China, which generated more than US$20 million of income for the Afghan people and contributed tangibly and financially to the social stability and economic recovery of Afghanistan.
The "Pine Nuts Air Corridor" has become an important bridge for the friendship and cooperation between China and Afghanistan. It has also become a corridor of delivering critical assistance in a time of need. A smoothly running air corridor for pine nuts trade injects certainty, stability and sustainability into the future of the Afghan situation and the people of Afghanistan. This will help Afghanistan embrace development opportunities and signify China's constructive support to Afghanistan. The benefits of this action will be substantial and far-reaching.
As Afghanistan's friend and neighbor, China has long provided help and support as much as it can to the peace, reconstruction and economic development of Afghanistan through various ways. China first began importing Afghan pine nuts in 2018 and has exercised zero-tariff for many of Afghan products exported to China since 2010. Since 2013, China has practiced a zero-tariff policy on 95 percent of the products originated in Afghanistan and expanded the coverage to 97 percent in 2015. China has also facilitated the export of Afghan agricultural products from Afghanistan to China to the best of its ability.
By overcoming the numerous difficulties and reopening the air corridor for pine nuts, China has provided another example of its active efforts to aid Afghan people. This action, along with China's humanitarian aid and commercial investment for Afghanistan, constitutes a uniquely Chinese integrated solution. On 8th September, Mr. Wang Yi, China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister, announced that the Chinese government had decided to provide RMB200 million yuan of emergency aid, including food, winter supplies, vaccines and medicine to Afghanistan according to the needs of the Afghan people and that China would provide Afghanistan with more anti-COVID and emergency supplies within the framework of the China-South Asian Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve. China was the first major country to make a clear commitment to providing aid to the Afghan people. China took speedy actions to honor its commitments and made sure that the Afghan people would be the beneficiaries of these actions.
On 8th December, the first batch of 800,000 doses of vaccines out of a total of 3 million together with the syringes needed for the inoculation arrived in Kabul international airport from China. On 13th December, a handover ceremony was held in Kabul to mark the arrival of the second shipment of the winter supplies, which are part of the humanitarian aid supplies from China. Over 10,000 tons of food, daily necessities, medical materials and other winter supplies as well as COVID vaccines have been shipped to Afghanistan. Although these concrete actions, including reopening the air corridor for pine nuts, aimed at helping the Afghan people are not mentioned in Western media, they are welcomed and appreciated by all Afghan people.
According to UN statistics, at least 18.4 million Afghan people are facing a humanitarian crisis. According to less optimistic estimates, only two to five percent of the Afghan people are not suffering from a lack of food. The aid flowing to Afghanistan from the international community has experienced a drastic fall since the withdrawal of US troops and the shift in US attitude toward providing aid for Afghanistan. And some countries have kept delaying the delivery of pledged aid or hindered efforts to let Afghan people directly benefit from the aid. Under such circumstances, the international organizations, including the UNHCR and the non-governmental organizations, are worried about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and issued repeated warnings and appeals.
The United States is responsible for the systemic humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, yet it has not only refused to fulfill its responsibilities and obligations, but also repeatedly shifted the blame to others and frozen Afghanistan's overseas assets under various pretexts. On 20th December, the United States launched a draft resolution in the UN Security Council, which called for the exemption of US sanction against Afghan Taliban regarding humanitarian aid for Afghanistan on a case-by-case basis. This is, in essence, a way of exerting pressure on the interim government of Afghanistan by taking the Afghan people hostage, and a way of imposing protracted control and humiliation on all Afghan people and subject them to physical and mental suffering.
Sharing sympathy and support when other need them the most has always been a traditional virtue for the Chinese people. It has been proved by history and reality that China always respects the Afghan people and never interferes in Afghanistan's internal affairs. China sincerely hopes that Afghanistan will enjoy revitalization. China is ready to continue to play a constructive role in Afghanistan's peace and development.
The author is a professor of the Research Center for the Belt and Road and the Research Center for Afghanistan of Lanzhou University