Alwaght- The fall of Kabul to the Taliban has been the top news headline of the world media in past weeks. The collapse of a government under the American support for two decades is substantially scandalous for Washington in the eyes of the public opinion and the political observers. The insurgent group entered the capital Kabul on August 15, after the pro-Western President Ashraf Ghani fled abroad. Taliban's entry to Kabul, marked the end of 20 years of US-led efforts to build a state in Afghanistan conforming to Western models of governance.
The developments of Afghanistan have caught the attention of other actors and powers. Meanwhile, China is one of the actors that has followed the developments in Afghanistan in the past month with special care and reflection. Beijing recently announced plans to establish friendly relations with Taliban-controlled Kabul, and Taliban officials have cited China as a viable option for investing in Afghanistan. This prompts some questions: How will be the future of relations between China and the Taliban after the group's control over Afghanistan? What threats and opportunities does Taliban takeover and establishment of an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan bring to Beijing?
Chinese concerns about Taliban rule
In an overall look, Taliban gain of power carries some serious threats to China. Here are the most important of them:
Increase of radicalism in Xinjiang region
Definitely, the most important obsession of China about Taliban threat to its territory is the Chinese Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang. Like Tibet, Xinjiang is a formally autonomous region. Uyghurs, originally Turkic Muslims, are living in that region and account for around 45 percent of the population there. For decades, there always have been reports about Beijing crackdowns on them. At present, China seems even more worried about augmented extremism in this region after re-rise to power of the Taliban in neighboring country. Actually, now China's top priority is end of war, as Beijing leaders are aware that chaotic situation can feed religious extremism and terrorism.
In the run up to the Kabul collapse, Global Times newspaper of ruling Communist Party of China accused Western media of campaigning to mar ties between Beijing and the Taliban. "West does not really care about the rights of Uyghurs of Xinjiang. It just hopes to sow divisions between China and the Taliban," the newspaper wrote. At the same time, its editor-in-chief Hu Xijin posted on Twitter a string of widely-circulated messages saying that the Taliban views China as a" friend."
The Taliban in a clear message confirmed their disregard for the repression of Muslims in China. A Taliban spokesman told the Wall Street Journal in July that the group was reluctant to criticize the "allegations of repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
"We care about the oppression of Muslims, but we will not interfere in China's internal affairs," he said. Although this statement is very promising for the Chinese authorities, it does not mean that Beijing's concerns about the agitation of Uyghurs can be completely removed.
Disruption of "Road and Belt Initiative"
Since the 1980s, China has made extensive efforts to expand strategic economic and political relations with the world to become one of the world's great power poles. As part of efforts to materialize this strategy, it introduced "Belt and Road Initiative." The trade course, also called New Silk Road, incorporates the "go out policy" of the 1990s that encouraged Chinese investors to invest overseas. The importance of the initiative rests in the fact that with its attractions, it encourages the countries covered by the road to strike strategic partnership deals with Beijing.
Many political observers now believe that the Biden government's sense of passivity and betrayal of its puppets in Kabul should have been countermeasures to the Chinese trade initiative. Pir Mohammed Mollazehi, an Iranian expert of Afghanistan affairs, told Alwaght in an interview that "seemingly the US has lost, but if we want to be exhaustive, we can see that Washington has a major strategy worldwide and its behavior in Afghanistan can be analyzed within this strategy. The Americans are implementing an already designed plan. It is too naive to think that the multi-billion US spending in Afghanistan is for nothing. Upon understanding their mistake of setting hope on the Afghan secular elites, the Americans returned to the Taliban who have a wide public base and the power to influence the equations. The US intends to use Taliban rise to counter Belt and Road Initiative. In other words, the Americans now think that Afghanistan and the Taliban are the most important obstacle ahead of implementation of China power boost plan."
In July, when 13 people, including 9 Chinese workers, were killed by a suicide attack on a bus in Pakistan, the risks posed to China's initiative implementation showed themselves. China is completing infrastructural megaprojects in Pakistan to pave the way for its trade route, but awakened violence and extremism can prove threatening.
China opportunities from Taliban rise
In addition to the threats, seizure of power by the Taliban can bear opportunities for China. Here are the most important of them:
Taliban: An anti-Western force and tending to Beijing
One of the most important principles in the world of politics traditionally by analysts and politicians is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Although this statement is not entirely true of the reading of China-Taliban relations, the important point is that the Taliban is ideologically and practically an anti-Western and anti-American force. Unlike with Russia or the US, the Taliban have never been at war with China, and Beijing has not made even the slightest effort to influence the Afghanistan political equations. By the same token, when a major Asian power like China agrees to meet openly with Taliban leaders, it gives the Taliban a major diplomatic victory. Therefore, Taliban can prove a cooperation-worthy partner to China as it is antipathetic to the West. The direction of the Chinese stances suggests that Beijing has already chosen this path.
China eyes cooperation with moderate Taliban version
China foreign policy apparatus seems to have decided to interact with a moderate Taliban. Chinese officials over the past few months sent positive signals of their openness for peaceful power transition to Taliban and cooperation with a new government in Kabul. A day after Kabul fall, Chinese foreign ministry stated it was ready to establish "friendly relations" with the group once the takeover is complete. Also, on August 19, Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China in a phone conversation with his British counterpart Dominic Raab called on the world community to avoid pressures on Afghanistan in its power transition process and also not make the country a field for reckonings. This was clear to suggest Beijing’s opposition to any obstacles ahead of Afghanistan power transition.
Also, in July, FM Yi hosted Taliban political representative Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the port city of Tianjin north of China, in a preemptive measure to engage constructively with the Taliban. Embarking on an active diplomacy, China's officials and media are trying to present a moderate version of the Taliban and even influence its policy to guide it out of radicalism.