Li ran | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
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.
“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
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.
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.
Sayed Khodaiberdi | Agence Anadolu | Getty Images
“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
“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.”
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.
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.