China says it hopes Taliban will ‘ensure peaceful transition’ and ‘stop terrorism’

The Chinese Embassy is up and running with its ambassador and some staff. However, most of the Chinese nationals have already been evacuated from Afghanistan.

Updated - August 16, 2021 08:24 pm IST

Published - August 16, 2021 03:47 pm IST - Beijing

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. File Photo.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. File Photo.

China’s government said on Monday it hoped the Taliban would “fulfil its commitment to ensure a smooth transition” and “curb all kinds of terrorism" in Afghanistan following its rapid takeover of the country.

“The situation in Afghanistan has undergone major changes and China respects the wishes and choices of the Afghan people,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in Beijing. "The war has lasted over 40 years. To stop the war and realise peace is the voice of the over 30 million Afghan people and aspiration of the international community and regional countries. We noted the statement from the Afghan Taliban yesterday [Sunday] saying the war is over and that they will start consultations for establishing an open, inclusive Islamic government, and will take necessary action to ensure the safety of Afghan citizens and the foreign diplomatic corps. We expect the Taliban to fulfill its commitment to ensure a smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan, curb all kinds of terrorism and criminal acts, keep the Afghan people away from wars and rebuild their beautiful homeland."

The call to stop terrorism echoed the message from Chinese officials late last month when they hosted a Taliban delegation in the city of Tianjin, marking a new chapter in Beijing’s outreach to the group. With the unexpected speed of the Taliban takeover in the weeks since, Beijing is now hoping that early engagement will help secure its interests in the country, particularly with regard to its concerns over Jihadist groups with links to its western Xinjiang region that shares a border with Afghanistan.

Asked if China will recognise the new Taliban regime, Ms. Hua said China “stands ready to develop good-neighbourly, friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan, and to play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”

"On many occasions, the Taliban has expressed the hope of developing sound relations with China, saying they look forward to China's participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, and that they will never allow any forces to use the Afghan territory to endanger China,” she said. "We hope the Taliban will unite with all parties and ethnic groups in Afghanistan to establish a broad and inclusive political structure that suits its own national conditions to lay the foundation for realising a lasting peace in Afghanistan. China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny.”

While several countries have been evacuating their personnel and closing their missions in the country, Ms. Hua said China’s Embassy in Kabul was “still operating normally” and “most of the Chinese citizens in Afghanistan have already returned to China."

Beyond Monday’s statement and the recent outreach to the Taliban, Beijing has long had its own concerns over both the speed of the earlier announced U.S. withdrawal as well as the Taliban's past links to terror groups, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) that has carried out attacks in Xinjiang.

Putting aside those concerns, the immediate mood in the Chinese state-controlled press was largely one of schadenfreude, highlighting the failures of the U.S. rather than the security concerns that still loom for both China and the region. China’s state media exulted in the U.S. withdrawal, with official outlets slamming Washington for its “messy failure”, “humiliation”, and “impotence”.

"United States troops entered Afghanistan two decades back in the name of a 'war on terror'. The U.S. then attempted to build a modern Afghan state. While the former hardly qualifies as the victory President Joe Biden claimed, its attempts at the latter are an unmistakable, unfolding, messy failure,” the official China Daily said in an editorial.

The Communist Party-run Global Times, a tabloid published by the official People’s Daily known for its often nationalistic slant, noted that many online were comparing the U.S. exit from Kabul to the fall of Saigon and this was "a clearer demonstration of U.S. impotence than the Vietnam War” showing the U.S. was “a paper tiger.” In an editorial, the paper said the speed of the Taliban takeover was "undoubtedly a heavy blow to the U.S’ and "declared the complete failure of U.S. intent to reshape Afghanistan.” "In the meantime, the U.S.’s desperate withdrawal plan shows the unreliability of U.S. commitments to its allies: When its interests require it to abandon allies, Washington will not hesitate to find every excuse to do so,” the paper said.

The paper said China “will indeed view the situation in Afghanistan taking into consideration the stability of its Xinjiang region” but added that security concerns were “exaggerated”. “The People's Liberation Army is heavily deployed around the Wakhan Corridor, a key zone for China's counter-terrorism mission that links China and Afghanistan,” the paper said. One consistent message from Chinese experts, underlined by the paper on Monday, was to state that China “has no will to fill the vacuum the U.S. has left behind in Afghanistan”. The paper quoted Chinese experts as dismissing speculation that China would send troops. “The most China can do is to evacuate Chinese nationals if a massive humanitarian crisis occurs, or to contribute to post-war reconstruction and development, pushing forward projects under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) when safety and stability are restored in the war-torn country,” the paper said.

China had in late July hosted a Taliban delegation, led by Abdul Ghani Baradar who was at the time heading its political office in Doha and is now expected to take up a prominent role in the new dispensation. Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the delegation China hoped the outfit would "make a clean break with all terrorist organisations including ETIM”, while Beijing has offered continued economic support and to extend the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the country. Mr. Wang had hosted his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, days before the Taliban delegation’s visit and the “all weather” allies then outlined “a joint action” plan to coordinate their strategies in Afghanistan.

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