• Allied forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, and the country has been declared an “Islamic Emirate” by the Taliban.
  • The international community is on the fence about engaging with the Taliban, but China has been one of the few countries more open with the organisation.
  • China’s top diplomat suggested that the international community needed to “guide” the Taliban regime actively in a phone call with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken,
  • Because of this, there are reports that China is preparing to fill in the power vacuum left behind by allied forces.

What is going on with China and the Taliban?

The Taliban have expressed interest in wanting China to be its prominent financier for its government. A senior member of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar has said that China will “beef up” its relations with the group and increase its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. China is pledging $31 million worth of aid to Afghanistan, including food supplies and coronavirus vaccines. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared these measures during a meeting with Afghanistan’s neighbours Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The BBC is reporting that China is making serious efforts to establish good relations with the Taliban. But, even before the group took over Afghanistan, Chinese officials were meeting with the Taliban. In July, China invited representatives of the group to a meeting to offer economic support but have said to the group that they cannot allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists. China has yet to formally recognise the new regime in Afghanistan, as some of the Chinese public are unhappy with these links.  

Why is China Engaging with The Taliban?

So, while they see the necessity of taking on a more active political role to deal with the fallout of what is now underway, there is considerable wariness about being sucked in.”

Andrew Small, Associate Senior Policy Fellow on the European Council on Foreign Relations on China’s links with the Taliban.

Many analysts are trying to understand why China is taking such a different approach from the rest of the world regarding the Taliban. China has been critical of how the United States withdrew troops from Afghanistan and have said that the United States caused “havoc” because of their withdrawal. Tom Tugendhat, a British Member of Parliament, said that China is engaging with the Taliban to ensure stability in the neighbourhood and Andrew Small, Associate Senior Policy Fellow on the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes that it is all about “managing threats” rather than viewing Afghanistan “through the prism of opportunities.” China has many interests in neighbouring countries like its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor worth $60 billion. This is at risk due to the withdrawal of allied forces, and by engaging with the new regime in Afghanistan, China could limit the spill-over effects into countries in which it has its interests.

However, the likes of Samina Yasmeen, the Director of the Centre for the Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, thinks it is more than managing threats. She said that China is trying to create a zone of influence within the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. There are even suggestions of China expanding its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) into the country. Chinese officials have repeatedly expressed interest in increasing its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan. With allied forces withdrawing from the country, it could be possible for this to happen. Not only that, but Taliban officials want investment specifically from China, and the BRI could be a way for this to happen.  

Aljazeera explaining China’s Belt and Road Initiative

What Does China Want to Gain Out Of Afghanistan?

As reports say, there are links with China and the Taliban, but it is more about what both parties want to gain. It seems China doesn’t want to expand its BRI into Afghanistan and is worried that the new regime will harm this project. That is why they are sending aid into the country so that the situation doesn’t spill over to places like Pakistan, where it has established this economic corridor. Funding for the BRI has declined over the last few years, and with the pandemic impacting China economically, they may have to revaluate where it is spending its funds. As a result, this may displease the Taliban, who are hopeful that China will fund most of its operations.    

There is scepticism from the west that China will expand its sphere of influence into Afghanistan. However, this narrative is being overblown. If China were to expand the BRI into this country, it would have to contend with a security situation that is becoming worse by the day, with ISIS-K and the Taliban currently fighting within Afghanistan. In doing so, a country like China would be more concerned about Afghanistan’s instability rather than it being viewed as an opportunity. And so, despite this narrative that China will fill in this power vacuum left behind by the allied forces, it will be more about stabilising the situation rather than taking advantage of it.  

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Hamish Hallett is a journalist/broadcaster part of the scribe team at Common Sense. He has a deep interest in current affairs, both domestically and internationally, which you can see through his written work and his podcast called A Spoonful of News. Hamish loves to understand what makes people tick and get to the root of today's issues. Away from the network, Hamish has a profound interest in reading books, keeping active, travailing, meeting new and exciting people and controversially having ham and pineapple on pizza.

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