Representatives of the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist group are welcomed by China’s foreign minister in the Chinese city of Tianjin, 28 July| Photo: China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The procession between China and the Taliban continues. The spokesman for the fundamentalist group, Suhail Shaheen, said on Thursday (19) that China could contribute to the development of Afghanistan in the future. On the other hand, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said the same day in a phone call to his British counterpart Dominic Raab that the international community should support the transition to a new government rather than putting more pressure on the government. process.
Officially, China did not recognize the Taliban as the new ruler of Afghanistan, but gave indications that it could do so in the name of stability in the region. On Monday, the day after the extremist group took over the capital, Kabul, the Chinese government said it hoped to continue developing “friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan.”
China’s main interest at the moment is to maintain stability in the country. The country has been waging its own “war on terror” for years, which has ended up in the persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.
Now, the Communist Party of China fears that further power struggles in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the United States could pose a direct threat to Chinese national security. One of the concerns is that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, linked to extremist groups in Xinjiang province, could use Afghan territory to plan attacks against China. (Remembering that China and Afghanistan share a small 70-kilometer border.)
In late July, Wang hosted a delegation of nine Taliban representatives to Tianjin to discuss security issues. At the time, the Taliban delegation pledged “not to allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China.”
While history has shown that the Taliban’s word isn’t worth much, China appears to be betting that, for the sake of its security, its best option at the moment is to support a peaceful transition of government to the fundamentalist group.
China’s initial support for the Taliban, as the United States exits the country and tries to prevent militants from gaining access to Afghan government money, will be taken into account by the fundamentalist group if it succeeds in establishing a lasting government regime. Taliban leaders have already said that Afghanistan is open to Chinese investment – and that is another Chinese interest in the neighboring country.
The Asian giant has some businesses in Afghanistan, mainly in the energy and mining sector, as it had a diplomatic and economic relationship with the government of former President Ashraf Ghani. But, according to analysts, the country’s instability was an impediment for the Chinese to invest more there. If the Taliban effectively manages to form a government, China would encourage itself to send more money to Afghanistan, which could become the biggest financier of the country’s reconstruction.
Afghanistan, despite being one of the poorest nations in the world, has mineral resources that are of interest to China, such as copper, rare earth minerals and lithium, which are in great demand for the development of industry in the 21st century. Resources that have been little explored until today due to the lack of infrastructure and instability in the country.
Furthermore, Afghanistan’s location is strategic, being a gateway between the Middle East and Asia. For China, having infrastructure projects in the country, in a scenario of stability, would be important for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s global infrastructure investment program.
For international relations consultant Cezar Roedel, this is the most likely scenario being drawn up for Afghanistan at the moment. He explains that the Taliban needs funding to govern Afghanistan, so it will open the door for Chinese investments. China, in turn, tends to employ a strategy known as “debt-trap diplomacy”, using the country’s indebtedness to Chinese banks to influence policy decisions in government.
Military support? Not at this moment
It would be in this way, through diplomatic and economic channels, that China would exert its influence on Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban. The CCP is not expected to place Chinese soldiers on Afghan territory – not now – at the risk of repeating mistakes made by the United States over the past two decades.
“It’s possible that China will develop security assistance for the Taliban regime in the future, but I don’t believe that will happen now,” said Laurel Miller, Asia Program director for the International Crisis Group, in an interview with CSIS’s ChinaPower podcast.
She said China will be cautious in trying to fill the vacuum left by the US and NATO, using, in addition to financial assistance, its influence in Pakistan – with whom it has an important commercial and military relationship – to boost its political relations with the fundamentalist group .
The future of relations between China and Afghanistan is still difficult to predict. There is also the possibility that, in the long term – and considering that the security situation in the country remains critical – the involvement between nations will end up generating more headaches for China, which, in the absence of the US, will have to allocate resources to ensure that your neighbor’s problems don’t spill over into your territory.
The only certainty is that, right now, the Chinese government is scoring points in the so-called “Cold War 2.0” by media exploiting the hasty – and shameful – departure of American troops from Afghanistan as an example that the United States is not to be trusted.