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In Afghanistan, China to Stay Focused on Trade Ties, Taliban Counterterrorism Efforts: Analyst

  • ‘China’s Position on the Afghan Issue’ released as Foreign Minister Qin Gang visits Central Asia, with 3 out of 11 points referring to anti-terror work
  • Counterterrorism will be a key factor for China to recognise the Taliban’s international status and further economic ties, observer says

China will focus more on economic ties and anti-terror work with Afghanistan, an observer said, citing a position paper released as the Chinese foreign minister began his first trip to Central Asia.

The paper repeated Beijing’s shared regional approach towards the Taliban regime but offered little on new policies relating to Afghanistan, according to Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University in northwestern China.

Titled “China’s Position on the Afghan Issue”, the statement was released on Wednesday – just as Foreign Minister Qin Gang began his first visit to Uzbekistan in his new role.

It listed 11 points about China’s attitude to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, in one of its most comprehensive official statements on the turbulent nation since the militant group took power again in Kabul.

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While calling for economic cooperation with the regime and expressing support for its counterterrorism activities, the paper appealed to the Taliban government to “adopt moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies”.

It also condemned the US sanctions on Afghanistan – imposed after the Taliban seized Kabul in August 2021 as the last of the American troops withdrew. China opposes “external interference and infiltration” to influence Afghanistan, the paper said.

According to Zhu, economic ties and counterterrorism remained the dominant concerns for Beijing, with the position paper offering a “systematic integration” of its previously stated stance on Afghanistan.

“China’s focus on Afghanistan is still mainly on economic cooperation, especially … the Belt and Road Initiative and on counterterrorism issues,” he said.

The paper said China “welcomes Afghanistan’s participation in belt and road cooperation” and would like to help transform the landlocked nation into a “land-linked country”.

But while the Taliban have expressed willingness to join the belt and road and Beijing has highlighted Afghanistan’s significance for the global infrastructure plan also dubbed the “New Silk Road”, the two sides have yet to sign any contracts.

“It is still too early for Afghanistan to join the belt and road, the pace of progress is currently slow due to its own unstable security situation, US sanctions, and the lack of international recognition of its status,” Zhu said.

Three of the 11 listed points in the paper referred directly to the Taliban’s counterterrorism activities, reflecting Beijing’s eagerness to stamp out militancy in Afghanistan, which has threatened Chinese citizens as well.

The paper highlighted the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uygur separatist group that Beijing partly blames for ethnic tensions in its far-western Xinjiang region, which has a narrow border with Afghanistan.

“China hopes that Afghanistan will fulfil its commitment in earnest and take more effective measures to crack down on all terrorist forces including ETIM with greater determination.”

No country should practise “double standards” on counterterrorism, or “advance their geopolitical agenda by supporting or conniving at terrorism”, the paper said in a clear reference to the United States, which removed ETIM from its list of terror groups in 2020.

“It is a shared view of regional countries that the military interference and ‘democratic transformation’ by external forces in Afghanistan over the past 20-odd years have inflicted enormous losses and pain on Afghanistan,” the paper said.

The Turkestan Islamic Party, founded by exiled Uygur Islamic militants, has rebuilt its main base in northern Afghanistan, according to a UN Security Council report in July.

Moreover, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban, which has long sought to overthrow the government of Pakistan, has a growing anti-China agenda and has strengthened its presence in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime.

The militant group was behind several deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan, some reportedly targeting Chinese investment and personnel.

Spillover militancy from post-war Afghanistan has long been a concern for its neighbours, including China.

On Thursday, Qin was in the Uzbek city of Samarkand to meet counterparts from the six other nations bordering Afghanistan – namely, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Pakistan.

It was the fourth such summit since 2021 to discuss a regional approach to the evolving situation in the war-torn country.

“Counterterrorism will be a major concern for China for quite some time to come, and the Taliban’s compliance with its commitments has been less than ideal,” Zhu said.

“This [counterterrorism] will be a key factor for China to recognise the Taliban’s international status and further economic cooperation.”

Source: South China Morning Post