China Offers the Taliban a Warm Welcome While Urging Peace Talks
China offered the Taliban a high-profile public stage on Wednesday, saying the group quickly recapturing large parts of Afghanistan would play “an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction” of the country.
Chinese officials begin two days of talks with a delegation of Taliban leaders in Tianjin, a coastal city in northeast China, dramatically increasing the group’s international stature after steady military gains that have benefited from the withdrawal of combat forces United States and NATO from Afghanistan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the Taliban “an essential military and political force,” but urged their leaders “to hold up the banner of peace talks,” according to a foreign ministry statement.
He urged the group to work to improve its diplomatic image and secured a public commitment that the group would not allow fighters to use Afghan territory as a base to carry out attacks inside China, the statement said. .
The Taliban participated in a regional diplomatic blitz over the past month, traveling to Tehran, Moscow and Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, for talks with officials, as their military ascendancy in Afghanistan increased. The growing legitimacy accorded to the insurgents by regional leaders has met in large part with the public silence of the Kabul government, and Wednesday’s visit to Beijing was no exception.
The visit to Tianjin was the Taliban’s most significant diplomatic coup to date.
Chinese officials have met with Taliban envoys before, including a meeting in Beijing in 2019, but not at such a high level and in such a public manner. This meeting highlights how successfully the country’s former leaders, who were overthrown by the United States 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks, have reshaped the way international powers treat them.
The Foreign Ministry and Chinese state media showed Mr. Wang warmly greeting Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy head of the Taliban, and also posing with other Chinese diplomats and the nine-member Taliban delegation.
Intentionally or not, the exhibit stood in stark contrast to the icy welcome he and other Chinese officials had given in Tianjin two days earlier to Wendy R. Sherman, the US Under Secretary of State.
Barnett R. Rubin, a former State Department official and United Nations adviser on Afghanistan who is a senior researcher at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation, said the meeting in China was not a demonstration of support for the Taliban but for a peaceful end to the war.
“This is an effort to use China’s influence to persuade the Taliban not to seek military victory but to seriously negotiate for an inclusive political settlement,” he said.
China has become increasingly concerned about the fate of Afghanistan. It shares a short border with China at the end of a narrow mountainous region called the Wakhan Corridor. Last month, Taliban forces seized much of the province, which borders Xinjiang, a predominantly Uyghur Muslim region in western China where the government has detained hundreds of thousands on behalf of the fight against extremism.
Wang again criticized the United States and its NATO allies on Wednesday for a hasty withdrawal that could once again plunge the country into chaos, the ministry statement said.
Although it hasn’t said so explicitly, China appears to be trying to act as a mediator between the Afghan government and the Taliban, encouraging some sort of political settlement.
China has long sought to play a larger diplomatic role in Afghanistan, but it has always been overshadowed by the inordinate influence of the United States as the head of the military mission supporting the government in Kabul. That may change now that the Americans have largely withdrawn their fighting forces and the Taliban appear to have the military initiative.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke by phone with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on July 16 and also urged his government to find an “Afghan-led and owned” solution.
While China has long criticized the US military engagement in Afghanistan, it has also relied on it to help contain what it sees crucial to its security: the use of the country as a base for extremists fighting for it. independence of Xinjiang, which the separatists call East Turkestan.
After the September 11 attacks, the United States designated the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization, in part to cultivate China’s support for American efforts in the “war on terror.”
The Trump administration revoked the designation last year, saying there was no evidence the group continued to carry out attacks, a claim China disputes. China has cited the threat of Uyghur extremism as the reason for its mass detention camps in Xinjiang.
China also has other interests to protect in Afghanistan. He has made significant investments in the country, including pledging to spend $ 3 billion to develop the Aynak copper mine. Many of these investments have stalled due to the instability of the country.
Chinese officials have signaled in recent months that Afghanistan could benefit from development projects under the country’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global effort to invest in infrastructure.
The Taliban, in previous statements, have said they would welcome Chinese investments. Taliban Politburo spokesman Mohammad Naeem on Wednesday thanked China for issuing an invitation to meet, according to a statement posted on Twitter. The group seemed eager to address China’s main concern.
“The Islamic Emirate,” he said, “has assured China that Afghan territory will not be used against the security of any country.”
Najim Rahim and Adam Nossiter contributed reporting. Claire Fu contributed to the research.
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