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China hints at recognising Taliban as legitimate Afghanistan government ‘when conditions are ripe’

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, stands with Abdul Ghani Baradar, acting deputy prime minister of the Afghan Taliban’s caretaker government, in Kabul on March 24, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing has given strong backing to the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying recognition of the group as the legitimate government of the war-torn nation would come “when conditions are ripe”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered the promise of endorsement at the end of a two-day meeting on Afghanistan affairs on Thursday, when Afghanistan’s foreign minister hit out at the United States for undermining his country’s political and economic sovereignty.

Wrapping up the meeting in Anhui province – which was also attended by officials from Russia, the US and several countries neighbouring Afghanistan – Wang said Afghanistan should not be excluded from the international community and should not become a failed country.

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“Afghanistan has been suffering from war for many years and has fallen behind the pace of world development. This situation should not continue,” Wang was quoted as saying in a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

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

Wang said the interim government of Afghanistan had shown a positive attitude towards engaging with other nations, but its neighbouring countries expected more progress on combating terrorism, reconciliation among ethnic groups, an inclusive government and protection of the rights of women and children.

“Solving the above problems still requires unremitting efforts. It is believed that diplomatic recognition of the Afghan government will come when conditions are ripe that the concerns of all parties are given a stronger response,” Wang said.

“We hope and expect that the Afghan interim government will continue to take solid steps and make concrete efforts in this right direction.”

Beijing has yet to declare recognition of Taliban, but it was among the first nations to establish communication with the resurgent group with the withdrawal of American troops. Beijing has described the group as an important military and political force in Afghanistan.

Wang’s remarks were likely to give Beijing a bigger say over Afghanistan affairs, said Yin Gang, a Middle Eastern affairs specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“It has laid some foundation for China’s bigger role over the issue, and I believe more countries will follow China’s steps and normalise working communication with the [Taliban] government,” he said.

“China’s diplomacy over Afghanistan has been successful.”

Wang’s comments underscored China’s assessment that the new government would become more stable and that another change of government was unlikely, he said.

But he added that the Taliban needed to do more to win broader diplomatic acceptance, including recognising the original constitution of Afghanistan. While European countries might not recognise the Taliban soon, neighbouring countries are under greater pressure because they are more likely to be affected by what goes on in Afghanistan.

Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University said Wang’s remarks served the purpose of urging the Taliban to deliver on promises on fighting terrorism and protecting women’s rights.

“I don’t think [Wang’s remarks] mean China would naturally fully recognise the Taliban in the future, because Wang also urged them to keep their promises,” he said.

While comments made by Wang were a step towards Beijing’s diplomatic recognition of the Taliban, Zhu said China was unlikely to be the first country to do so, noting that Russia had received and accredited a diplomat from the Taliban last month – a step Beijing had not yet taken.

“The Chinese embassy in Kabul remains in operation and in contact with the Taliban, but there are no official events, like submitting credentials to the new government, yet,” he said.

The two-day meeting in the eastern province of Anhui was held as Beijing sought to bolster its role as a major influence in the region amid its tense relations with Western nations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put Beijing’s ties with Moscow under scrutiny, with Washington warning that China faced consequences if it supported Russia’s military aggression.

Wang has held bilateral talks with officials from other countries in Anhui over the past two days, during which he mentioned the Ukraine crisis and warned of a spillover effect of US sanctions on Russia.

In a meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Thursday, Wang said the Ukraine war did not mean the needs of Afghanistan should be ignored.

Muttaqi said no foreign forces would be allowed to occupy Afghanistan, and to use Afghanistan to oppose other nations.

“The United States has damaged Afghanistan’s political and economic sovereignty for a long time, and destroyed facilities during its hasty withdrawal, making Afghanistan [face great difficulties],” a Chinese foreign ministry statement quoted him as saying.

“Afghanistan will no longer rely on the United States and the West. We urge the United States to immediately lift the freeze on Afghanistan’s overseas assets and lift unreasonable sanctions on Afghanistan, and hope that the international community will provide support and help to Afghanistan.”

The US froze around US$9 billion in central bank assets after the Taliban seized power in Kabul last year and US President Joe Biden later ordered them to be seized and divided between victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks and humanitarian aid – a move Beijing criticised.

A joint statement by the foreign ministers of China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan following the two-day talks called on “countries mainly responsible for the current predicament in Afghanistan” to fulfil their commitments on the economic recovery and future development of the war-torn nation.

It said the provision of humanitarian aid should not be politicised but also called on Afghanistan to take more visible steps to cut ties with all forms of terrorist forces.