Sep 4, 2021
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“Powerful mediator”: what role can China play in resolving the situation in Afghanistan

The PRC and Iran intend to more closely coordinate their policies for the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan. This was discussed during the talks between the foreign ministers of these countries Wang Yi and Amir Abdollahian. The diplomats blamed the United States for the difficult situation in the state. At the same time, representatives of the Taliban * movement that came to power in Afghanistan have already named China as their main foreign partner. Experts believe that it is too early to talk about effective bilateral cooperation due to the unstable situation in Afghanistan. At the same time, according to political analysts, Beijing, whose influence in the region has grown even more after the US left the country, along with Russia, can indeed play one of the key roles in resolving the Afghan crisis.

Beijing and Tehran plan to cooperate more closely on the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan. This statement was made during a telephone conversation between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the PRC and Iran, Wang Yi and Amir Abdollahian. The content of the conversation is given by the Russian-language portal of the Xinhua news agency.

“As Afghanistan’s neighbors, China and Iran must strengthen interaction and coordination and play a constructive role in achieving a smooth transition and peaceful reconstruction in Afghanistan,” the Chinese agency’s website said.

Wang Yi noted that the Taliban * may soon announce the creation of a government. In this regard, the head of the PRC Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that the new authorities will sever contacts with terrorist groups, pursue an open policy and develop “good relations with all countries, especially with neighboring states.”

Wang Yi and Amir Abdollahian blamed the United States for the chaos that reigned in Afghanistan, which hastily evacuated diplomats, military personnel and some of the Afghans who collaborated with them from the country.

Wang Yi also recalled that one of the pretexts for the rapid withdrawal of the American contingent from Afghanistan was the thesis of the need to “concentrate forces” against Beijing and Moscow.

On September 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about the negative consequences of the American stay and evacuation from Afghanistan. During the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum – 2021, he stressed that Washington’s actions led to a humanitarian catastrophe and aggravation of the security problem in the region.

As Putin explained, the events in Afghanistan pose a threat to the neighboring states of the Russian Federation. Also, the Russian leader fears that in the event of “disintegration” in Kabul “there will be no one to talk to.”

Earlier, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, told reporters that the world community must reckon with the Taliban’s coming to power in Afghanistan.

“The coming of the Taliban to power in Kabul is a reality that the world community needs to take into account when further building relations with Afghanistan,” Zakharova stated.

“Safety problems”

The Taliban are currently completing the formation of their government. It is expected to be headed by the leader of the movement Haybatullah Akhundzada. Experts believe that after the creation of a new power structure, the Taliban will try to build relations with other countries.

The Taliban call China their main foreign partner. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica was told about this by the representative of the movement Zabiullah Mujahid. Political analysts believe that, judging by this statement, the Taliban counts on intensive development of trade and economic relations with the PRC.

In particular, we can talk about connecting Afghanistan to the global infrastructure project “One Belt – One Road”, about providing opportunities for investment and the admission of Chinese corporations to the extraction of copper and other minerals.

  • Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid
  • AFP
  • Hoshang Hashimi

Beijing, for its part, maintains contacts with the Taliban, but has not yet announced any plans for trade and economic cooperation with them. At the same time, China positions itself as a “friend of Afghanistan”, advocating peace, stability and economic recovery of the country.

The website of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy states that China has an interest in Afghanistan’s natural resources. Their deposits, according to some experts, can be estimated at $ 3 trillion. The country is rich in lithium, gold, rare earth metals, iron ore, copper and hydrocarbons.

“China is interested in the formation of a transport corridor through the territory of Afghanistan and to the port of Gwadar in Pakistan, in the extraction of copper and rare earth metals in Afghanistan,” Aleksey Maslov, acting director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with RT.

However, from his point of view, today there is no reason to talk about early Chinese investments in Afghanistan, where security risks remain.

“China’s approach is to solve the security problems in Afghanistan. Only then will economic issues be substantively discussed, ”Maslov is sure.

In an interview with RT, Sinologist Nikolai Vavilov also noted that China is unlikely to cooperate with Afghanistan as long as the unstable situation remains there, despite the obvious interest in trade and economic relations with this country.

The expert added that, among other things, the PRC leadership is concerned about how the alarming situation in Afghanistan and rampant terrorism may affect the situation in the neighboring Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

This region is home to a predominantly Muslim Turkic-speaking population. The PRC authorities believe that a separatist and Islamist underground operates in the XUAR. As Vavilov explained, Beijing primarily fears the growing influence of the “Islamic Movement of East Turkestan” – the militants of this group have been fighting in Afghanistan for a long time.

“The Chinese understand that, despite the loud statements, the Taliban do not fully control Afghanistan. They see a threat in the terrorist enclaves that persist in this country. And Beijing expects the Taliban to fight them. The most ideal option for the PRC is the creation of a buffer zone in the east of Afghanistan, which is adjacent to the borders of the XUAR, ”Vavilov argues.

Striving for stabilization

Experts interviewed by RT agree that Beijing’s influence in South Asia has noticeably increased and will increase, and regardless of the further development of events in Afghanistan.

In addition, the West also recognized the key role of the PRC in cooperation with the Taliban. Thus, on September 3, following an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the EU member states in Ljubljana, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell announced the decision of the ministers to begin more active cooperation with Beijing on Afghanistan.

The official did not hide the existence of serious contradictions between the EU and China, but at the same time admitted that now Europe needs the mediation of Beijing. At the same time, Borrell noted that Brussels will still conduct its own “operational dialogue” with the government, which will be formed by the Taliban.

“After the collapse of American policy in Afghanistan, the European Union found itself in a very difficult situation. You can no longer rely on the United States, but an influential intermediary is still needed. Europeans are forced to turn to Beijing in order to somehow resolve their problems – mainly with migrants, ”Vavilov said.

At the same time, experts believe that the EU is dissatisfied with the growth of influence in the region, not only of China, but also of Russia. So, in mid-August, almost immediately after the collapse of the official regime in Kabul, the European Parliament issued a statement, which speaks of concerns about the possible strengthening of the role of Beijing and Moscow in Afghanistan.

  • Taliban
  • Reuters
  • © Stringer / File

MEPs believe that Russia and China will try to fill the “political vacuum” formed after the collapse of the American military mission. They called on the EU leadership to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan and the entire region, taking into account the changed circumstances.

“In my opinion, a new pole of influence on the situation in Afghanistan is now emerging as part of China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and, probably, Qatar (the Taliban is located there. – RT). At the same time, Beijing and Moscow will play the main role here, ”Vavilov emphasized.

According to him, the objective advantage of Russia and China over the West lies in the “absence of antagonism” in relations with the Taliban. As the interlocutor of RT predicts, in the current circumstances, the EU and individual European states will be forced to seek help from the Russian Federation and China.

Alexey Maslov shares this point of view. He believes that after the US left Afghanistan, China has become a “regional political leader.” At the same time, Beijing “correlates efforts” with Moscow. According to the expert, Russia and China are the only major powers that are promoting a “positive agenda” on Afghanistan.

“These countries are not trying, like the West, to isolate Afghanistan, which leads to even greater difficulties for the civilian population. Moreover, Moscow and Beijing are ready to provide humanitarian aid to the country and promote pragmatic principles of interaction with the Taliban, ”Maslov said.

In his opinion, Russia and China are united by common goals, which boil down to stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, fighting terrorism and preventing “external forces” from interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

“Moscow and Beijing are striving primarily for stabilization in Afghanistan. Russia fears for the Central Asian republics, China for the XUAR. Neighborhood with Afghanistan is a very difficult test, especially for the PRC. However, the strengthening of the role of Moscow and Beijing should have a positive effect on the situation in this country, ”Maslov summed up.

* “Taliban” – the organization was recognized as terrorist by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of February 14, 2003.

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