Like many other nations, China is concerned about the threat of terrorism from a Taliban-led Afghanistan. Beijing has repeatedly told the Taliban that the country cannot be a breeding ground for militants to launch attacks in Xinjiang, as Osama bin Laden used as a base to prepare for his September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States
A more immediate threat could be the spillover of militancy to Pakistan and Central Asia, where China has invested heavily and tried to build alliances.
“The Afghan Taliban have promised they will break away from the international terrorist forces, but we have not yet seen them do so because they are not officially in power,” said Li Wei, a retired international security expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
The Taliban could be an incongruent partner for China, as their religion-based philosophy is diametrically opposed to Beijing’s vision of atheist rule under the Communist Party, which puts social stability and economic development first. However, that did not prevent China’s ultimately pragmatic leaders from reaching out to them.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi received a delegation led by Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar late last month and reiterated China’s hopes for stability and an end to violence and terrorist threats.
Chinese officials and state media have criticized what they call the “hasty” withdrawal of America from Afghanistan. “The Taliban’s quick victory embarrasses the US, destroys its image and arrogance,” headlined the state daily Global Times.
Despite the rhetoric, Wang told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that China was ready to work with the US to advance the “soft landing” of the Afghan issue.
He added, however, that “on the one hand, the US cannot deliberately restrict and repress China in order to violate China’s legitimate rights and interests, and on the other hand, it can count on China’s support and coordination.”
President Joe Biden said the withdrawal from Afghanistan will prepare America to deal with major potential threats, including China.
“Our real strategic competitors – China and Russia – would do nothing better than for the United States to continue to devote billions of dollars and resources and attention to stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely,” he said this week.
Yin Gang, a Middle East Studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the two countries have a common interest in a stable Afghanistan.
“If Afghanistan achieves stability, the US will look good and China will be invited to help rebuild,” Yin said.
China has pursued commercial ventures in Afghanistan, but the prospect of such projects bearing fruit does not seem any closer today than it has been in the past 20 years of the US presence.
A consortium led by China Metallurgical Group Corp. offered $ 3 billion to develop one of the world’s largest copper deposits at Mes Aynak, and also promised to build a power station, railroad, and other infrastructure. Years later, work has yet to begin, mainly because of insurgent activity in the surrounding Logar province.
China’s state-owned National Petroleum Corp. suspended oil drilling in the Amu Darya Basin due to a delay in signing a transit agreement with Uzbekistan to allow crude oil to be shipped to China. The Afghan government later invalidated the drilling agreement.
China has invested heavily in Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, in the hope of expanding its Belt and Road initiative to expand China’s overseas reach by improving trade routes, but Afghanistan does not seem ready to be a part of that Serving chain.
China’s far-reaching economic interests in Pakistan and Central Asia could clearly be hurt by a terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan, said Henry Storey, a political risk analyst based in Melbourne, Australia.
“At the same time, China refuses to get involved with any boots locally because it does not want to repeat the mistakes of the USA – or wants to be distracted by more urgent problems like Taiwan,” said Storey, referring to the island of China, claiming it for itself and threatening it with an invasion.
Chinese scholars agreed with the government policy that China will not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs no matter how the situation develops. At a briefing this week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China would support Afghanistan as far as it can.
While “hawkish” Chinese state media have portrayed the events in Afghanistan as a victory for Beijing and a defeat for Washington, this reflects “a false sense of trust,” said Meia Nouwens, China expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies
China may not be as interested in using the U.S. withdrawal as an opportunity to do economic engagement in Afghanistan as some have suggested, she said, noting that Beijing has slowed its foreign infrastructure investment.
The question of how to ensure the safety of Chinese investments and personnel is also great.
“Right now … Beijing will do the same as most other countries,” she said. “Wait and see how things develop in Afghanistan.”
Associated Press Writer David Rising from Bangkok contributed to this story.