Sep 8, 2021
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China and the Taliban *: An Alliance Under the Sky?

In the future, China can become the main partner of Afghanistan

During the August days of the chaotic American evacuation from Afghanistan, China was jubilant at America’s retreat. State media published caustic editorials and cartoons, and Chinese officials made no secret of gloating over the outcome of the US 20-year war. Many are now making predictions about how America’s withdrawal will affect China.

Various scenarios are considered. Some argue that the withdrawal will free up US resources, allowing a focus on China and the Indo-Pacific. For others, America’s defeat provided the Heavenly Empire with an opportune moment to remind Taiwan that, even with a superpower as its allies, it is vulnerable. Still others argue that the withdrawal of troops creates a “vacuum in Afghanistan” and this should be used.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan makes some strategic sense for Beijing, as the Sino-US rivalry seems to remain the dominant theme of international politics for decades to come. The United States has long been advising presidential administrations to “transfer to China” resources spent in other regions.

The Biden administration was quick to demonstrate that US global commitments remain in place. Amid the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, America held the largest military exercise since the Cold War; the exercises, analysts said, were designed to send a signal to Russia and China: the United States can simultaneously wage war on multiple fronts. The Wall Street Journal writes: “US tightens focus on China after withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan”

For its part, Beijing reminds that China is no longer the country it was a century ago. Washington is advised to follow the rules of the game of the great powers and not test China’s strength. It is emphasized that the potential of the United States, which helps maintain the loyalty of allies, will not be decisive in the war with China and Russia.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan does not mean that Taiwan cannot count on American aid. From a security standpoint, Taiwan is no more vulnerable today than it was before the withdrawal of American troops. Taipei remains a close partner and military ally of the United States and other countries in the region, including Japan and Australia.

In the near future, China’s attention will likely be directed at undermining Taiwan’s psychological confidence in the safety of the island (they say, the United States is geographically distant and unreliable as an ally). Although it will not become something new in the Chinese state propaganda.

The United States, in turn, is arming Taiwan, ignoring Beijing’s reaction. Under Trump, America has significantly increased arms shipments to the island, with US exports exceeding $ 5.1 billion in 2020. Biden has not abandoned his predecessor’s policies and recently approved the sale of another $ 750 million in arms to Taiwan. The US administration claims the shipments will send a strong signal to China of its commitment to Taiwan’s security and complicate any Chinese invasion plans. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Taiwan will be at greater risk of an armed conflict with China as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it is difficult to argue with the fact that the withdrawal of troops creates a vacuum in Afghanistan that China can use. And the Taliban themselves are talking about this (the movement is prohibited in Russia).

“China will be our main partner and represents a great opportunity for us,” says a Taliban spokesman *. According to him, the Taliban value China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In addition, China will help Afghanistan use its rich copper ore reserves and pave the way to world markets. The Taliban spokesman added that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan sees Russia as an important partner in the region and will maintain good relations with Moscow.

Beijing is not stingy with promises of cooperation with the Taliban. According to the press secretary of the PRC Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, China welcomes the opportunity to deepen ties with Afghanistan. China announced earlier than others that it will come to the issue of diplomatic recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan as soon as an open, broadly representative regime is established in the country. The KNP embassy in Kabul continues to operate.

Through the new Afghanistan, Beijing can strengthen its influence in South and Central Asia until Kabul starts exporting extremism (meaning Xinjiang). At the same time, Chinese officials reiterate that Beijing respects the right of Afghans to decide their future, implying that a Taliban victory reflects the will of the people.

It is important for the Taliban that Beijing, in exchange for its refusal to support Muslims in Xinjiang, turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in Afghanistan. And such an exchange is possible.

As far as economic interests are concerned, they are important but not decisive. In 2019, China was the fifth largest export destination for Afghan goods after the UAE, Pakistan, India and the United States. And the fourth largest source of imports for Afghan markets after the UAE, Pakistan and India. It is more essential for Beijing to gain access to Afghan minerals and strategically important transport routes through Afghanistan.

By most estimates, Afghanistan has at least a trillion dollars in mineral resources. However, the figure is dubious given the difficulty of mining in this country. Afghanistan has no access to the sea, and the railway network is very undeveloped. In addition, most estimates of Afghanistan’s mineral resources are based on geological surveys dating back to the 1980s.

Overall, Beijing is aware of the risk the Taliban may pose to its security and will take this into account. Beijing has the political will to bring peace to its neighboring country. And since the Taliban needs recognition and assistance abroad, China could become Afghanistan’s main partner in the long run.

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