What will relations between China and Afghanistan look like with the Taliban in power?

By James Moules

OVER the past few weeks, the eyes of the world have been focused on Afghanistan.

The Taliban, who had been removed from power following the US and NATO invasion in 2001, wrenched back control of the nation with ferocious speed.

Since then, predictable and shocking reports of human rights abuses have surfaced in Afghanistan, including violation of women and LGBTQIA+ people and the massacre of the Hazara ethnic minority.

Before the Taliban returned to power, their representatives met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in July 2021 – and it is possible that China may recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban regime) as the nation’s government.

When asked by AFP if China would recognise the Taliban’s government, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “It is a customary international practice that the recognition of a government comes after its formation.

“China’s position on the Afghan issue is clear and consistent. We hope that Afghanistan can form an open, inclusive and broadly representative government that echoes the widely shared aspirations of its own people and the international community.”

Dr Marcin Kaczmarski, lecturer in Security Studies at the Glasgow University School of Social and Political Sciences, told Redaction Report that China’s approach to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will likely be driven by pragmatism.

He said: “I would see China’s readiness to recognise the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan as being in line with Beijing’s pragmatic approach to shifts in the domestic politics of its partners.

“China tends to work with the governments on all sides of the political spectrum.

“At the same time, I would say it is the recognition of the situation on the ground about which China cannot do much rather than a willingness to pursue close ties.”

In the United States, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has coincided with a drop in President Biden’s approval ratings, with his net approval rating dropping just below zero for the first time since he assumed office.

US troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for the best part of 20 years following the invasion in 2001. During that time, tens of thousands have been killed in the war, including more than 50,000 Afghan civilians and 2,000 US military personnel.

This was not the first time in recent decades that Afghanistan faced foreign invasion. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded the country – which ended nearly 10 years later with a humiliating withdrawal. Just three years after the withdrawal, the Soviet backed government in Afghanistan fell.

As many as two million Afghan civilians died in this conflict.

Dr Kaczmarski said it is unlikely China follow suit and take military action in Afghanistan.

Instead, the situation could be highlighted by the CCP as a failure of Western policy.

“I think that the lessons from Soviet and American & Western failures in Afghanistan are unambiguous and China will avoid being drawn into the conflict,” he said.

“Moreover, China’s military policy priorities lie in East Asia; I would see the aim of China’s policy towards Afghanistan as ‘securing the backyard’ rather than pursuing ambitious goals.”

He added: “While there is a broad spectrum of voices in China concerning the West and the US, I would expect the issue of Afghanistan to be brought up as a useful illustration of the Western failures and a more general testimony to the West’s decline.”

Under President Xi Jinping, China has undertaken a vast global infrastructure project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to bolster the nation’s position in global trade – part of the project involves the construction of trade routes across Central Asia.

Critics of the scheme accuse China of economic imperialism, arguing that nations receiving China’s infrastructure investment could be forced into a debt trap.

However, in spite of Beijing’s diplomacy with the Taliban, Dr Kaczmarski said that China’s biggest political priority in Afghanistan will be to prevent terrorism rather than to draw the nation into the BRI.

“I would interpret China’s aims towards Afghanistan in ‘negative’ terms.

“Beijing is interested in Afghanistan not emerging as a safe haven for terrorist or separatist groups, especially those who might target Xinjiang province.

“Potential benefits of making Afghanistan a relevant part of the BRI are limited compared to possible economic and security costs.”

He added that the Taliban will likely remain silent about China’s alleged repression of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang – where as many as a million members of Muslim minority groups are reported to have been arbitrarily detained.

China denies human rights abuses, claiming that the camps are educational facilities.

Some 2,000 Uyghurs live in Afghanistan, many of whom are refugees from China. The Taliban takeover has prompted fear that Afghanistan’s Uyghur population could be in danger.

A Uyghur man in Kabul told the BBC: “We fear the Taliban will help China control our movements, or they will arrest us and hand us over to China.”

Featured Image: Pixabay

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