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China denies it is taking over Afghan military site that was US base

Bagram Airfield ended up in Taliban hands after US and Nato forces vacated it. Photo: Xinhua

China has denied suggestions that it is set to take over an Afghan military airfield that was the United States’ largest base in the troubled country.


Beijing was not in talks with the Taliban to transfer the right to use Bagram Airfield for operational needs, contrary to media reports, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.

“What I can tell everyone is that that is a piece of purely false information,” Wang said.

Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, had said the US government needed to keep an eye on China after American troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“We need to watch China, because I think you are going to see China make a move for Bagram air force base,” she told Fox News last Wednesday. “And I think they are also making a move in Afghanistan and trying to use Pakistan to get stronger to go against India.”

US forces handed control of the airfield to the Afghan military on July 2. It was surrendered to the Taliban 44 days later.

Located 45km (28 miles) from Kabul, Bagram served as the centre of American military power in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. It is equipped with facilities including a runway, a 50-bed hospital and a prison capable of holding thousands of people.

China has expressed its hopes that Afghanistan can be stabilised and not be a breeding ground for extremism, especially given Beijing’s fears that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – a Xinjiang separatist group founded by Uygur militants – could spill inside its borders.

The Taliban has maintained warm relations with Beijing since seizing power over most of Afghanistan. The militant group has described China as a friendly country and said it would welcome Chinese involvement in rebuilding and developing Afghanistan.

On Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry did not directly respond when asked whether it was one of six countries invited to an event announcing Afghanistan’s new governance structure, but it reiterated its position on the country.

“We have always respected Afghanistan’s sovereign independence and territorial integrity, supported the Afghan people in seeking a development path suited to the conditions of the country,” Wang said.

“We have always supported Afghanistan in forming an open, inclusive and broadly representative government that follows moderate and stable domestic and foreign policies, resolutely combats all forms of terrorist forces and is on friendly terms with all countries, especially its neighbours.”