China is probably seeing the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan as an opportunity to ramp up its closeness with the war-torn country. In a first, a Taliban delegation has been seen openly visiting China for holding talks with its foreign minister. According to reports, Taliban delegates led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar held talks in China with foreign minister Wang Yi on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post reports that the meeting was held in the northern city of Tianjin in China. Many pictures of the meeting have surfaced on social media sites.
Beijing sheds public hesitations on dealing with Taliban. Taliban’s deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar & Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, pics out. pic.twitter.com/CousHNDkVX— Sidhant Sibal (@sidhant) July 28, 2021
A nine-member Taliban delegation is on a two-day visit to China for talks with the Chinese government on the peace process and security issues.
Dr. Mohammed Naeem, the spokesperson of the Taliban, tweeted that Mullah Baradar Akhund has visited China as the leader of a 9-member delegation on the official invitation of China. He informed that separate meetings were held with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Chinese Special Representative for Afghanistan.
“Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Naeem said.
The Taliban spokesperson reiterated that the Taliban has assured China that Afghan territory would not be used against the security of any country, meaning they won’t give sanctuary to Uyghur separatists. ‘China pledged to continue and expand its cooperation with the Afghan people, saying that they would not interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs, but would help solve problems and build peace,’ he added. The Taliban also thanked China for ‘its continued cooperation with the people of Afghanistan, especially its continued cooperation in the fight against Covid-19’, the spokesperson further added
This is the first time ever any senior Taliban leader has visited China, since the Islamic terror group launched a massive offensive to capture territory across Afghanistan, coinciding with the rapid drawdown of US and NATO forces.
China raises concerns that under Taliban rule, Afghanistan will become a hub for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement
The meeting is said to come against the backdrop of Beijing’s concerns that under Taliban rule, Afghanistan will become a hub for the Uyghur separatist outfit East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is an Uyghur separatist group, aligned to Al-Qaeda, that has long sought independence for the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Amidst the ongoing UN troop withdrawal and the Talibani offensive to regain control of the country, several hundred members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has remained active in several districts of Afghanistan. In their bid to establish an Uyghur state in Xinjiang, China, the group facilitates the movement of fighters from Afghanistan to China.
Earlier this month, China had expressed its concern regarding Afghanistan becoming a breeding ground for the fighters of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The concerns were raised amidst the turmoil precipitated by the US troop pullout and the offensive launched by the Taliban. Reportedly, China is also concerned that Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, may become a hub for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The northwest Xinjian region, which is home to Uyghur Muslims, shares about an 8-km-long border with Afghanistan.
In order to assuage the concerns of the Chinese, the Taliban reassured them, saying that it saw China as a “friend” to Afghanistan and hoped that China invests in the reconstruction of the war-torn country.
“Taliban views China as a friendly country and we welcome it for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan”, said Suhail Shaheen, adding that “If (the Chinese) have investments, of course, we will ensure their safety”.
China eyeing to exploit the fallout between the US and Afghanistan
Meanwhile, China is smartly trying to exploit the void created in Afghanistan following the decision of the withdrawal of US troops from the country. Not only has China been vocal in criticising America for its decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, citing the deteriorating situation on the ground, but has also urged its all-weather ally Pakistan to step up cooperation to contain the security risks in the war-torn country following the withdrawal of the American forces.
In fact, at a meeting with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in June, China’s FM Wang Yi
vowed to “bring the Taliban back into the political mainstream” and offered to host intra-Afghan peace talks.
“China’s position is that this should be resolved within Afghanistan. And the situation in Afghanistan should not threaten China’s security,” a source said, naming security in Xinjiang and Chinese investments in the region as some of Beijing’s top concerns.
China’s interest in Afghanistan is understandable as the country has the world’s largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, iron, gas, cobalt, mercury, gold, lithium and thorium, valued at over USD one trillion, which China is eyeing access to. Additionally, China wants to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a hotbed for Uyghur Islamic militants from Xinjiang province that shares an 8- km-long border with the country.
According to The New York Post, the Kabul authorities have been interacting, even more deeply in the recent past, with their counterparts in China, as the latter shows interest to invest in Afghanistan’s infrastructure through its international ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.
China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is a trillion-dollar program of the Communist government of China which it uses to grow its influence by providing infrastructure loans to poorer countries in return for control over local resources.