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China, by being good neighbour to Afghanistan, offers lesson on tackling security problems elsewhere

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chairs the third foreign ministers’ meeting of neighboring countries of Afghanistan, in Tunxi, Anhui province, on March 31. Photo: Xinhua

At the end of March, foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbours met to discuss the troubled country. The joint statement issued afterwards – covering areas including political diplomacy, the economy and counterterrorism – highlights the determination of those in the region to help Afghanistan achieve stable development.

Amid a complex and volatile global climate, the meeting chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China’s Anhui province, offers an instructive example on how to approach security problems, which is not only of practical significance to Afghanistan, but also important for the international community.

The irresponsible withdrawal of the United States and its allies from Afghanistan last September left more than 20 million people facing an economic and humanitarian crisis, with high unemployment, food insecurity and an ongoing pandemic.

In the face of such a dire situation, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agreed to work together to support Afghanistan through its transition, believing that the country’s neighbours should help provide a favourable external environment for its reconstruction. Such a mechanism has provided stability during a critical period of uncertainty.

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In less than a year, Afghanistan’s neighbours have held three foreign ministers’ meetings, during which they have reached important consensuses while maintaining active communication with the interim government of Afghanistan and cooperating with various international mechanisms to contribute to the country’s development.

Still, Afghanistan faces severe challenges relating to humanitarian needs, the economy, counterterrorism and national governance. In particular, the situation in the country is being aggravated by the actions of the US.

In February, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to deploy the US$7 billion in Afghan central bank assets held in the United States towards humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and compensation for the victims of September 11, saying the US would not return the funds to the Afghan interim government. This has been strongly criticised by Afghanistan and the international community.

More worryingly, in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Afghanistan seems to be increasingly forgotten by the Western world. Some 24 million people across the country remain in need of humanitarian support this year, but the United Nations has made little progress in reaching its goal of providing US$4.44 billion in aid. Last month, with the eyes of the world on Ukraine, the UN high commissioner for refugees urged the international community not to forget the needs of the Afghan people.

Indeed, the latest round of talks could not have been more timely. It served as a reminder that the Afghan issue remains high on the current international peace and security agenda. The world should not forget Afghanistan, and the United States, as the instigator of Afghanistan’s problems, must certainly not deliberately avoid the Afghan issue.

It is better for the doer to undo what he has done. The US and Western world at large should fulfil their responsibility to rebuild Afghanistan and return the property of the Afghan people as soon as possible. To really help the Afghan people, more effort must be made to alleviate Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, and fewer unnecessary actions taken to create trouble.

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A man sits on rice sacks provided through aid sent by China to Afghanistan, at a distribution centre in Kabul on April 7. Photo: Reuters

The meeting of foreign ministers also highlights China’s contribution to the lasting peace and stable development of Afghanistan. To make the platform more productive and speed up the implementation of decisions reached at the previous two meetings, China proposed the regular meeting of special envoys from Afghanistan’s neighbours and the establishment of three working groups on political diplomacy, economy and humanity, and security and stability.

Foreign ministers of the Afghanistan interim government, Qatar and Indonesia were also invited to attend the meeting for the first time, while “troika plus” talks between envoys from China, the US, Russia and Pakistan were also conducted on the sidelines of the meeting. China’s diplomatic efforts are obvious to all.

Regardless of how international matters are evolving, China remains a responsible regional power and neighbour. Its foreign policy towards its neighbourhood has not changed, nor has its principle of diplomacy for upholding justice.

On the one hand, China views the efforts of the Afghan interim government both from a historical perspective and with a vision of development. It wants to exert a positive influence on the country’s transition, and better integrate it into the international community.

On the other hand, China opposes the abuse of sanctions, insists on resolving differences through dialogue and consultation, maximises consensus, urges countries to seize windows of opportunity on the basis of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and stresses combating terrorism effectively. It has encouraged Afghanistan to adopt a more inclusive and open political architecture, and more moderate and steady internal and external policies.

Afghanistan has passed through a long winter and is embracing a hopeful spring. There is reason to believe that the successful convening of the third foreign ministers’ meeting will help Afghanistan out of its current predicament and set it on a path of healthy development that is in line with not only its own national conditions but also the development trend of the times.

Qian Feng is director of the Research Department and senior research fellow at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University