Now that the Taliban is in control, its officials have repeatedly voiced support for the Belt and Road Initiative, pledging to protect China’s interests in the country.
While China has maintained its embassy in Kabul, China has not recognized the Taliban rulers as the legitimate government. Reiterating that it is ready to help Afghanistan in reconstruction, China, like most other countries, has adopted a “wait-and-see” policy.
According to Professor Zhu Yongbiao, an expert on Central Asian studies from Lanzhou University, there are too many uncertainties regarding the Taliban’s future rule in Afghanistan. “The Taliban has portrayed itself as much more moderate than 20 years ago, but the question is, will it last and to what extent?” Zhu said.
Another concern for China is whether the Taliban can effectively maintain social stability and provide functional governance. “The challenges faced by the Taliban are no less serious than those faced by the West-backed Afghan government that has collapsed,” Zhu said.
“Internally, the Taliban will face great difficulties in forming and sustaining an effective national government, providing basic livelihoods and promoting economic development,” Zhu said, “Externally, the Taliban still has a very tense relationship with the West, which could impose sanctions and boycotts and even launch military strikes in the future.”
China is also wary about the future policy of the West, particularly the US, toward the Taliban regime. “Now that the US has abandoned its ‘nation-building’ objective in the region, what’s its next objective?” Zhu said. “You can’t rule out the possibility that the US will seek to cause instability in Xinjiang.”
This may be why China called on the US to play a “positive” role in the future. In a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on August 29, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Yi said that the international community should “positively guide” Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, including providing economic and humanitarian aid and helping them govern and maintain social stability.
Warning that the “hasty withdrawal” of the US could allow terrorist groups to regroup, Wang said that the US should not “play double standards or fight terrorism selectively.”
In the meantime, China has been coordinating its stance with other countries in the region, including Russia and Iran, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open.
On September 6, the Taliban invited Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Qatar to attend its government formation ceremony, which gave an early glimpse into its strategic alignment. But until some of the key questions about the Taliban’s rule can be answered, it is unlikely that China will elevate its ties with the Taliban soon.