China and Afghan Taliban set for closer interaction, as US urged to be ‘pragmatic’
Chinese President Xi Jinping Joins Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan In Calling On The International Community To Come To The Aid Of War-torn Country
China and the Afghan Taliban have agreed to set up a working-level mechanism to step up dialogue, Beijing announced on Wednesday, as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the US and its allies to engage with the Taliban “in a rational and pragmatic manner” to prevent Afghanistan from sliding into a humanitarian crisis and terrorist chaos.
Wang made the remarks in Doha during his first meetings with senior Taliban officials since the militant group formed an interim government in Afghanistan last month. The high-level meetings in the Qatari capital on Monday and Tuesday signalled closer ties between Beijing and the Taliban, observers said.
Wang last met Taliban representatives in Tianjin in July, shortly before the takeover of Kabul, with then Political Commission head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar leading the delegation.
Details of the working-level mechanism to enhance dialogue and mutual understanding were not immediately available but, in a pre-recorded message broadcast on Iranian state TV, Wang said that the Taliban was eager to engage globally.
“China will host the third ‘neighbours of Afghanistan’ meeting at the appropriate time,” he said, referring to ministerial-level discussions with the five other nations bordering the war-ravaged country and with a vital stake in its stability.
Chinese President Xi Jinping made a similar appeal on Tuesday after a phone call with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, calling on the international community to swiftly send humanitarian and economic aid to Afghanistan.
Xi and Khan also urged international help for the Afghan people, to “alleviate their suffering, prevent instability” and rebuild the country, a Pakistani government readout said.
In his first meeting since July with Baradar, now the acting deputy prime minister of the Taliban regime, Wang painted a grim picture of Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is facing quadruple challenges, namely the humanitarian crisis, economic chaos, terrorist threats and governance difficulties,” he said, according to a statement from the foreign ministry.
The US and some Western countries “bear the unshirkable responsibility” for the difficulties faced by Afghanistan, Wang said, in a reference to the chaotic withdrawal of US forces in late August after a 20-year war.
“China urges the US and the West as a whole to lift sanctions, and calls on all parties to engage with the Afghan Taliban in a rational and pragmatic manner to help Afghanistan embark on a path of healthy development,” Wang said during his meeting with Baradar.
He also reiterated that “China supports the efforts to restore stability and rebuild the country” and said Beijing would continue to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan “within its capacity”.
China last month pledged 200 million yuan (US$31.3 million) worth of aid to Afghanistan, including food supplies and coronavirus vaccines.
Wang also urged the Taliban to adopt a friendly policy towards its neighbours and “demonstrate openness and tolerance”, especially towards ethnic groups, women and children.
Wang highlighted Beijing’s security concerns in meetings with both Baradar on Monday and the interim government’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Tuesday, demanding that the Taliban crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and other terrorist groups that posed threats to China’s stability.
In response, Baradar was quoted by the Chinese readout as speaking highly of China’s support and vowing to “resolutely honour its promise and never allow anyone or any force to use the Afghan territory to harm China”.
In an interview with Xinhua after the meetings, Wang said China appreciated the Taliban’s “understanding of China’s great concerns” and its commitments to making a clear break with all terrorist forces and taking measures to resolutely combat them.
“The key is how to achieve it,” Wang was quoted as saying.
According to China’s former ambassador to Iran, Hua Liming, while the Chinese embassy remained open in Kabul, the working-level mechanism was still necessary due to the absence of official ties between the two countries and was “a practical step” to deal with complex bilateral issues, such as trade.
Hua said Wang’s meetings with Taliban officials showed Beijing would continue to engage with the group, just short of a formal recognition of the new regime.
“The meeting in Qatar marks a step forward in bilateral ties, but there is still some way to go before China establishes official ties with the new Taliban government,” he said.
“China believes in maintaining communication with the Taliban but, like other countries including the United States, we will have to watch and see whether the new government can live up to its pledges.”
From Beijing’s perspective, according to Hua, the Taliban’s domestic and foreign policies since it took over Kabul in August have largely been “moderate and pragmatic”, but it has yet to be fully convinced by the group’s repeated security reassurances.
“Afghanistan is a neighbour and China has no choice but to engage with it. But, given its history of terrorism, it remains difficult for the outside world to recognise the Taliban without signs of a complete break with its religious extremist past.”