The bigger China gets, the bigger its international responsibilities do, too. The Chinese Government values stability in global affairs as a matter of principle. Its contribution to this stability, however, entails several challenges, as well as the occasional journey into uncharted waters. The case of Afghanistan is a characteristic example. The decision of U.S. President Joe Biden to fully withdraw American troops from the country by late August will end U.S. military entanglement in the region and leave a void.
The U.S. and NATO will not completely abandon Afghanistan, but their presence will be different and less intense compared to the previous 20 years.
Against this backdrop, China is highly concerned that new waves of volatility will come crashing down. The fight against terrorism remains its top priority and the possibility for terror groups to enter China through the Wakhan Corridor has not gone unnoticed. Extremism and other terror activities, including by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a UN-listed terror group, similarly feature on the Chinese Government's radar.
To foster stability in Afghanistan under the new circumstances is a basic objective for China as long as the Taliban keep gaining ground. Moreover, it is intensifying efforts to push for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process.
In that regard, the Chinese Government is willing to facilitate the intra-Afghan dialogue. A few weeks ago, a delegation of the Afghan Government and Taliban representatives met in Tehran, Iran. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on July 14 that China is ready to host negotiations within the Afghans, and help solve the Afghan issue through political solutions.
A Taliban delegation headed by its political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar recently visited China. When meeting them in Tianjin on July 28, Wang called on the Afghan Taliban to put their national interests above all else. "Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people, and the country's future and destiny should be in the hands of its people," he said.
Additionally, the UN Security Council Resolution 2513 (2020) calls on both the Afghan Government and the Taliban to pursue confidence-building measures. The recent resolution further suggests that any political settlement must protect the rights of all Afghans.
Regional cooperation will be the cornerstone of China's involvement. Synergies between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other organizations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance consisting of former Soviet republics, and multilateral schemes with the participation of China, Afghanistan and Pakistan or between China and Central Asian countries are all positioned within this context. During their meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, on July 24, Wang and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi agreed both countries should jointly tackle the spillover effect from the Afghan violence and the deteriorating situation in the country.
The geopolitical landscape in the bigger Afghan picture is a complex one due to the different interests of actors involved, including Russia and India. China has an opportunity here to turn a terrain of quicksand into a land of peace. Careful diplomacy has to team up with economic perspectives for the Afghan people. Furthermore, the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative will offer an investment boost, but only if safety is guaranteed first.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that China's possible involvement in Afghanistan could be a positive thing. Yet patience is a prerequisite. Results, if any, for Afghanistan, a country tainted with tragedy for decades, will be up for evaluation on the long term.
The author is the EU-China Program Director at the Centre International de Formation Européenne
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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