China is quickly moving to establish ties with the Taliban as the U.S. has nearly completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted nine members of the Taliban, including the group’s co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in the Chinese city of Tianjin. Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem said that the invitation from Chinese authorities showed that Beijing is recognizing the legitimacy of the Taliban.

During the meeting, Wang assured the Taliban that the Chinese government respects Afghanistan’s independence and territorial integrity, and promised not to interfere with Afghanistan’s internal concerns. 

Wang added the usual denouncement of the United States and its policies, “China has throughout adhered to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs… [the withdrawal demonstrates] the failure of America’s policies and offers the Afghan people an important opportunity to stabilize and develop their own country,” the foreign minister said.

The Chinese government no doubt sees the U.S. withdrawal as an opportunity to promote its Belt and Road Initiative.

Taliban leaders are seeking international legitimacy as they fight to control Afghanistan while the U.S. withdraws. (AFP)

Wang called the Taliban “a pivotal military and political force in Afghanistan [who] are expected to play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction.”

China and Afghanistan share a narrow border in the Wakhan Valley.

In 2008, China signed a deal for copper mining rights in Afghanistan. Then, in 2011, it signed an oil deal with the former Afgan government covering drilling rights and the creation of a refinery in the northern provinces of Sar-e Pul and Faryab. Further, China and Afghanistan have also agreed on gas extraction rights. Nevertheless, at this point, the deals remain dormant.


Friends With the Taliban But the Uighurs Have to Go

Nonetheless, China’s largesse has its limits. Wang said that he hoped the Taliban would crackdown on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), what China refers to as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP). The movement is comprised of Chinese Uighur Muslims. China calls it a “direct threat to [its] national security.”

The Chinese consider ETIM an international terrorist organization and want the Taliban to “sever all ties” with the group.

China has said it fears that ETIM, which supposedly has ties to al-Qaeda, could be using Afghanistan as a staging ground for their operations in China. ETIM had moved its headquarters to Kabul in 1998 due to the Chinese crackdown against the Uighurs and the group. 

In 2006, the U.S. captured 22 Uighur fighters from Afghanistan who had ties to al-Qaeda. They were sent to Guantanamo Bay and held between five to seven years with no trial. A federal judge ordered them to be released in the United States since they couldn’t return to China because of the country’s dismal human rights record against the Uighurs

The Chinese have detained more than one million Uighurs, using them as forced labor. China has been accused of genocide against the Uighur people and other Muslim ethnic groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has said that China is committing “genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Taliban align with China despite the Uighur question.
Uighur fighters from the ETIM are active in Afghanistan. (East Asia Times)

Taliban spokesman, Mohammed Naeem, posted on Twitter that “politics, economy, and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings.”

“[The] delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” the Taliban spokesman said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan’s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country,” he added. 

With this move the Chinese are putting their support firmly behind the Taliban who they feel will win control over Afghanistan.