China’s foreign minister has met a Taliban delegation, signalling warming ties as the United States-led foreign forces continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Wang Yi on Wednesday told the nine visiting Taliban representatives, which included the group’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, that Beijing expected it to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”, according to a readout of the meeting from the foreign ministry.
He also said he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security”, according to the readout, referring to a group China says is active in the Xinjiang region in China’s far west. Beijing has said it fears neighbouring Afghanistan could be used as a staging ground for separatists.
The visit comes as the Taliban has made sweeping gains across Afghanistan since May, when the US-led foreign forces began the last stage of their withdrawal, which is set to be completed by the end of August.
The fighting with Afghan government forces has led to a surge in civilian casualties and displacements.
At the same time, Taliban leaders have stepped up their international diplomacy in recent months, seeking global recognition for when they hope to return to power.
Wednesday’s meeting in the Chinese city of Tianjin, which Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem said was at the invitation from Chinese authorities, was widely seen as a gift from Beijing towards that legitimacy.
Naeem wrote on Twitter that “politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings”.
“[The] delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan’s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”
Beijing has viewed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a boon, while close ties with a future government in Kabul could also pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman sought to further underscore the differences between Washington’s and Beijing’s policies.
“China has throughout adhered to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs … Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people,” he said, adding it was a stark contrast to the “failure of US policy towards Afghanistan”.
For his part, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on an official visit to India, warned on Wednesday that Afghanistan would become a “pariah state” if the Taliban takes control by force.
“The Taliban says that it seeks international recognition, that it wants international support for Afghanistan. Presumably, it wants its leaders to be able to travel freely in the world, sanctions lifted, etc,” he told reporters.
“The taking over of the country by force and abusing the rights of its people is not the path to achieve those objectives.”
Separately, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani urged the international community “to review the narrative of the willingness of the Taliban and their supporters on embracing a political solution”.
“In terms of scale, scope and timing, we are facing an invasion that is unprecedented in the last 30 years,” he said in a speech on Wednesday.
“These are not the Taliban of the 20th century … but the manifestation of the nexus between transnational terrorist networks and transnational criminal organisations,” he said.