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China publicly supports Taliban, calls them ‘important’ to Afghan peace

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin. (Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs photo)
July 29, 2021

On Wednesday, Chinese officials hosted Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and a Taliban political delegation in Tianjin. During the high-profile visit, China’s Foreign Ministry publicly expressed support for the Taliban, saying they would “play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry press release said State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi met with Baradar and said the Taliban is “a pivotal military and political force in Afghanistan and is expected to play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.” Wang also told Baradar to “hold high the banner of peace talks, establish peace goals, establish a positive image, and pursue an inclusive policy.”

According to the Chinese government statement, Baradar said, “China has always been a reliable friend of the Afghan people and commended China’s just and positive role in Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process. The Afghan Taliban has the utmost sincerity to work toward and realize peace. It stands ready to work with other parties to establish a political framework in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban delegation’s visit to China is part of two days of planned talks between the two sides, the New York Times reported.

During their initial meeting, Wang reportedly stressed that the Taliban avoid ties with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Wang said, “We hope the Afghan Taliban will make a clean break with all terrorist organizations including the ETIM and resolutely and effectively combat them to remove obstacles, play a positive role and create enabling conditions for security, stability, development and cooperation in the region.”

The ETIM, which is also known as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party (ETIP), is a movement of ethnic Turks including Uyghurs who have advocated for the formation of an independent state in the Xinjiang region of China. China considers the group a terrorist organization and in 2002, the United States and the United Nations also declared the group to be a terrorist organization.

In 2020, the U.S. State Department removed the ETIM from its list of designated terrorist groups. Voice of America reported the State Department’s move was hailed at the time by ethnic Uyghurs, who saw ETIM’s terrorist designation as having helped China portray its crackdowns in Xinjiang as a part of a legitimate counterterrorism measure. China has been accused of detaining around 1.8 million members of the Uyghur population and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.

According to the Chinese statement, Baradar said the Afghan Taliban will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China.

The new talks between the Taliban delegation and China come as the U.S. has continued to withdraw from Afghanistan. Amid the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban has made territorial gains throughout the country and recently claimed to control about 85 percent of Afghan territory during a visit to Russia. The Taliban delegation in Russia sought to reassure Moscow that violence in Afghanistan would not spill over into areas like Tajikstan, where Russian troops are located. Days earlier, about 1,000 Afghan troops fled into Tajikistan to escape Taliban military advances in northeast Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the BBC reported Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the interactions between China and the Taliban could serve a positive outcome. Blinken reportedly said if China was looking towards a “peaceful resolution of the conflict” that could be “a positive thing.”

Barnett R. Rubin, a former State Department official and United Nations adviser on Afghanistan who is a senior fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, told the New York Times that the Taliban-China meeting was not necessarily a show of China’s support for the Taliban, but for a peaceful end to the fighting in Afghanistan.

“It is an effort to use China’s influence to persuade the Taliban not to seek a military victory but to negotiate seriously for an inclusive political settlement,” Barnett said.