China to ‘respect choices of Afghan people’ following Taliban takeover

Comments suggest Beijing is ready to give cautious support to Taliban-led government in Kabul

A Chinese paramilitary policeman  outside the Afghanistan embassy in Beijing on July 9th. Analysts expect China to expand its  strategic interests in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power so long as its own security concerns are met. Photograph: Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

A Chinese paramilitary policeman outside the Afghanistan embassy in Beijing on July 9th. Analysts expect China to expand its strategic interests in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power so long as its own security concerns are met. Photograph: Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

 

China has said it will respect the “choices” of the Afghan people, in the first sign that Beijing is ready to give its cautious support to a Taliban-led government in Kabul.

“The situation in Afghanistan has already undergone a major transformation and we respect the wishes and choices of the Afghan people,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, in Beijing’s first official comments since the Taliban swept into Kabul.

The remarks followed an editorial published by Global Times, a state-backed nationalist tabloid, that called the 20-year US effort to reshape Afghanistan a “complete failure” and said the Taliban’s return to power was a “heavy blow” to US credibility.

“The US’s desperate withdrawal plan shows the unreliability of US commitments to its allies: when its interests require it to abandon allies, Washington will not hesitate to find every excuse to do so,” the editorial said.

Analysts expect China to expand its influence and strategic interests in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power so long as its own security concerns are met.

But any policy would be contingent on the Taliban’s approach to Xinjiang, the region that borders Afghanistan where Beijing has interned more than one million Uiyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

Claude Rakisits, a former Australian security official and Afghanistan expert, said the Taliban would put their relationship with China ahead of any links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Uighur militant group that Beijing alleges is a security threat.

“If that means lots of Chinese investment into Afghanistan – I think they’ll do it, absolutely. They’re ruthless ... but also very pragmatic,” said Mr Rakisits, now with Australian National University.

Claudia Chia, an analyst at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies, said Beijing’s focus would be in “lower risk” engagement, such as aid, housing and basic infrastructure.

Belt and Road

Indian government officials have said they expect China to channel funds through Pakistan, one of Beijing’s firmest allies in the region and important partner in the Belt and Road Initiative, its flagship infrastructure-building programme.

But Liu Zongyi, a foreign policy expert at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said China would “not interfere” in the country’s internal affairs.

“Afghanistan lies in an important location connecting Asian countries and is important for [the Belt and Road] ... That does not mean China is filling a power vacuum, rather it is co-operation between two normal functioning governments,” Mr Liu said.

Ms Hua highlighted the Taliban’s pledge to establish an open government and assure the security of the Afghan people and foreign embassies.

“China looks forward to these commitments being realised to ensure a peaceful transition in Afghanistan where all terrorism and criminal acts will be contained,” she said.

When senior Taliban leaders met with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, last month, the group “promised” Afghanistan would not be used as a terrorist base to attack Chinese in Xinjiang, added Mr Liu.

“We’ll see if the Taliban keeps its promise or not,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021