Relations with Afghanistan delicate, analysts say – .

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Relations with Afghanistan delicate, analysts say – .


Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political leader of the Afghan Taliban, in Tianjin (northern China) on July 28, 2021.
Li ran | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
China was one of the first countries to express willingness to engage diplomatically with Taliban militants when they took power in Afghanistan – analysts say it’s a pragmatic move, but relations could be “Delicate” given Beijing’s strategic interests.
Beijing has been preparing for years for the possibility of a Taliban return to power, according to Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at Rand Corporation.

“Officially, they have been talking with the Taliban for many years now, covering their bets,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” Wednesday.

But the relationship between China and the militant Islamist group is “delicate” as Beijing targets what it calls religious extremism among ethnic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, said Ian Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations.

On the one hand, Beijing … would be ready to work with [the Taliban]. On the other hand, Islamist groups in Xinjiang are such a problem.

Ian Johnson

Foreign Relations Council

Xinjiang is home to the Uyghur Muslim minority. The United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have accused China of human rights violations, including forced labor and large-scale detentions in Xinjiang. Beijing denies these allegations.

“If they have an Islamist political party running a neighboring country, that could potentially be a problem for China,” said Johnson, who is CFR’s lead researcher Stephen A. Schwarzman for Chinese Studies.

“At least optically, it seems a little weird that, on the one hand, Beijing… would be ready to work with [the Taliban]. On the other hand, Islamist groups in Xinjiang are such a problem, ”he told CNBC.

Fears of extremist attacks

China is concerned that Afghanistan could become a safe haven for an extremist Uyghur group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, according to a Eurasia Group memo. Beijing believes the group could launch attacks in response to the “widespread crackdown on Uyghurs,” analysts wrote.

Chinese authorities may be trying to protect their country from terrorist attacks by establishing relations with the Taliban, according to Neil Thomas, analyst for China and Northeast Asia at Eurasia Group.

“Beijing hopes that offering economic assistance and possibly diplomatic recognition to the Taliban will persuade them to protect China’s security interests in Afghanistan,” he told CNBC in an email.

China’s decision to engage with the Taliban is a “pragmatic move,” Thomas said.

This “makes perfect sense” for Beijing, according to Rodger Baker, senior vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor.

“We have seen all over the world – the Chinese are perfectly willing to deal with any party that is in a country, as long as that party agrees to safeguard China’s interests,” he said on Wednesday. at CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”. This may include maintaining the stability of the region so that China’s Belt and Road infrastructure projects are not derailed and preventing terrorism or other attacks, he added.

Members of the Taliban patrol the streets of the Afghan capital Kabul on August 16, 2021, as the Taliban take control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Sayed Khodaiberdi | Agence Anadolu | Getty Images

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua said China maintains contact and communication with the Taliban “on the basis of full respect for the sovereignty of Afghanistan and the will of all factions in the country.” . The Taliban assured Beijing that they “would never allow any force to use Afghan territory to engage in acts harmful to China,” she added.

“China will try to keep the Taliban at their word, but there are unanswered questions about the unity and level of extremism of the new regime,” Thomas said.

Formal links with the Taliban in question

China has “laid the groundwork” and prepared to work with the Taliban, but it’s hard to predict whether Beijing will officially recognize them as an Afghan government, CFR’s Johnson said, adding that Western countries might not want to. than anyone who claims the Taliban.

“It may take a little while,” he said. Beijing “might want to be reassured that the Taliban will be a ‘normal government’ and not … endure massacres and mass murders or something like that before giving them formal diplomatic recognition.”

If the Taliban behave “more or less normally”, China is likely to recognize it “at some point” before Western countries, he added.

Rand Corporation’s Grossman echoed the sentiment, noting that China may think it is time to begin the process of potentially recognizing the Taliban as a “legitimate governing entity.”

“But they also said they wanted to make sure the Taliban made a ‘clean break’ with the terrorist proxies,” he said.

China may have asked its diplomats to stay in Afghanistan to… try to build confidence and diplomatic influence with the new Taliban regime.
Last week, the Taliban pledged peace in their first press conference since the capture of Kabul, according to a Reuters report.

For now, unlike many other governments that have decided to evacuate Afghan embassy staff, the Chinese ambassador remains in Kabul. A spokesperson for the Taliban’s political bureau reportedly said the group would not target diplomatic missions in the country.

It is smart of China to take this approach, which indicates Beijing is not afraid to take sides or shy away from the Taliban, Johnson said.

Thomas of Eurasia said it could help in the medium term as well.

“It is possible that China has asked its diplomats to stay in Afghanistan to contrast with the evacuation of Western missions and try to build confidence and diplomatic influence with the new Taliban regime,” he said. declared.

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