When the Taliban first took over Afghanistan in 1996, China refused to recognize their rule and the embassy was closed for many years. This time, Beijing took the lead in embracing the Islamic radicals next door.
China’s significant transformation was manifested more than two weeks ago, when Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed the Taliban delegation to the northern port of Tianjin as the organization won victory in the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country on Sunday. . Wang Yi recognized the “important role” of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s governance, and provided an important legitimacy for this organization that has long been a global untouchable by supporting terrorism and suppressing women.
The Taliban’s unexpected and rapid march into the capital of Afghanistan is as important as the reason why China has emerged as a global power. China today has an economy worth $14.7 trillion—more than 17 times its size in 1996—and a large-scale trade and infrastructure initiative across Eurasia.
In recent years, Beijing’s concerns about Islamic extremism among Uighur minorities have also deepened, leading to the establishment of a large police state near Afghanistan. In addition, the increasingly fierce competition with the United States has prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping to seize any opportunity to counter Washington’s dominance and drive U.S. troops out of its borders.
As the Taliban prepare to announce the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Kabul, these interests make China look like the next great power that has a stake in bringing order to Afghanistan. After experiencing the defeats of the Soviet Union and now the United States, it will be difficult for China to avoid repeating the same mistakes in a rugged landlocked country notorious for its exhaustion.
Sun Yun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said: “Twenty years ago, China was not a global power, and what happened in Afghanistan did not disturb China.” “But today, there are many new factors — Uyghur issues, economic interests, and China’s self-perception as a global power.”
While urging peace through negotiations, China has been trying to portray itself as a more pragmatic and less intrusive image than the West. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday: “China hopes that the Afghan Taliban will unite with other political parties and people of all ethnic groups to build a political framework that is in line with national conditions, is broad and inclusive, and lays the foundation for lasting peace.” Beijing.
Despite this, Hua did not support the rule of the Taliban, only saying that the situation in Afghanistan “has undergone major changes.”
This is part of China’s long-term evolution. Before receiving the organization’s first delegation in 2013, China denied any connection with the Taliban. Now, as Taliban fighters enter Kabul, the posts circulated on China’s heavily censored social media are compared to Mao Zedong’s capture of Beijing in 1949.
At the same time, the state media gloated over the withdrawal of the United States, and the state media Xinhua News Agency commented that it was “the death knell of the decline of American hegemony.”
“The roaring airplanes and the voices of the people retreating in a hurry reflect the final dawn of the empire,” the article said.
Even so, China is still one of the few countries that have benefited from the failure of the US$840 billion in nation-building, which puts Beijing’s competitors in trouble while creating a relatively stable environment for their companies. This leaves China with economic benefits that need to be secured, including a copper mine and several oil blocks. The country evacuated about 200 businessmen last month.
The stability of Afghanistan is the key to protecting neighboring Pakistan’s “One Belt One Road” projects worth more than US$50 billion, which provide a land route to the Indian Ocean. Fu Xiaoqiang, deputy dean of the China Institute of Modern International Relations, said in a comment on a think tank’s social media account on Tuesday that the chaos in Afghanistan has spread to Tajikistan and Pakistan and will continue to “implicate peace in western China”. boundary. “
“It is necessary for China to coordinate the confrontation with the United States and the surrounding security situation, and rationally allocate resources,” Fu said. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the US Secretary of State Brinken by phone on Monday that the unrest in Afghanistan highlighted the danger of trying to impose a political system on foreign cultures.
For Beijing, perhaps there is nothing more pressing than ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a source of extremism that shed blood on the border. At the July 28 meeting, Wang Yi urged Mullah Abdul Gani Baradar, the chief negotiator of the Taliban, to “completely break” with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
China accused the organization of launching terrorist attacks. According to reports, the organization had carried out activities in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s last control, and used this as a reason to suppress the Xinjiang region where the United States and other countries said it constituted genocide. The Chinese statement stated that Baradar promised that the Taliban would never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to engage in activities that are unfavorable to China.
Similarly, Wang urged Brinken when they called for the revocation of the Trump administration’s decision to remove East Timor from its list of designated terrorist organizations. When the Bush administration sought Beijing’s cooperation in the war on terrorism (including operations in Afghanistan) in 2002, it approved China’s designation requirements.
“China’s attitude towards the Taliban-led regime will depend on its policies, for example, whether the Taliban will honor its promises, rather than becoming a hotbed of extremist forces linked to China,” said Fan Hongda, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Institute of Oriental Studies, Shanghai International Studies University.
Afghanistan may become the biggest test of China’s diplomatic model, which is driven by loans, commodities, and infrastructure transactions, rather than requirements for liberal policies. Sun of the Stimson Center said that if the Taliban adopts a moderate policy toward women, does not alienate other countries, and achieves political stability, Beijing may consider a series of investments similar to what it has made in Pakistan.
“China’s approach is,’Through economic injection, we build roads, build infrastructure, and make sure that everyone has a job,'” she said. “If everyone goes to work at nine in the morning and comes home at six in the afternoon, they won’t have time to think about terrorism.”