The United States and China clashed Friday over Beijing's $1 trillion "belt and road" global infrastructure program after the Security Council unanimously approved a bare bones resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan for six months.
Last year's resolution extending the mission's mandate for a year welcomed and urged further efforts to strengthen regional economic cooperation involving Afghanistan, including through the massive "belt and road" initiative to link China to Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia. The 2016 and 2017 council resolutions had similar language.
Council diplomats said China wanted the "belt and road" language included in this year's resolution — but the United States objected.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the council after the vote that "China held the resolution hostage and insisted on making it about Chinese national political priorities rather than the people of Afghanistan."
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He said the Trump administration opposed China's demand "that the resolution highlight its belt and road initiative, despite its tenuous ties to Afghanistan and known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and lack of transparency."
China's deputy ambassador Wu Haitao countered that Cohen's remarks were "at variance with the facts and are fraught with prejudice." He also said one council member — almost certainly referring to the U.S. — "poisoned the atmosphere" which led to the council's failure to adopt a substantive resolution.
Wu noted that since the "belt and road" initiative was launched six years ago, 123 countries and 29 international organizations have signed agreements of cooperation with China on joint development programs.
"The 'belt and road' initiative is conducive to Afghanistan's reconstruction and economic development," Wu said. "Under this framework, China and Afghanistan will continue to strengthen cooperation in various fields, promote economic and social development in the country and the integration of Afghanistan into regional development."
He stressed that the program "has nothing to do with geopolitics."
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who drafted the resolution with Indonesia's U.N. Ambassador Dian Djani, expressed regret that "issues that have nothing to do" with the work of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan made it impossible to adopt a substantive resolution.
"We very much regret that such topics as the upcoming elections (in Afghanistan), the participation of women in the Afghan peace process, the situation of children in armed conflict, the nexus between climate change and security, are no longer reflected in this resolution," Heusgen said.
The resolution does extend UNAMA's mission until Sept. 17, 2019 and stresses "the central importance of a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict and a comprehensive political settlement." And it welcomes "progress in this regard."
But Heusgen said the text isn't satisfactory to any of the 15 council members.
He expressed hope that in the next six months the U.N.'s most powerful body would be able to overcome its differences and adopt a resolution that also reflects on the peace process and the upcoming elections.