Taliban want China to play ‘huge role’ in rebuilding Afghanistan

China is a big country with a huge economy and capacity, Suhail Shaheen tells Chinese state media


Reuters August 20, 2021
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING:

China has played a constructive role in promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and is welcome to contribute to the rebuilding the country, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Chinese state media on Friday.

Taliban seized control over the weekend in an upheaval that sent thousands of civilians and Afghan military allies fleeing for safety. Many fear a return to the austere interpretation of Islamic law imposed during the previous Taliban rule that ended 20 years ago.

In dealing with the Taliban, an increasingly powerful China may be able to leverage the fact that unlike Russia and the United States, it has not fought in Afghanistan.

"China is a big country with a huge economy and capacity – I think they can play a very big role in the rebuilding, rehabilitation, reconstruction of Afghanistan," Shaheen told CGTN television in an interview late on Thursday (Aug 19).

Also read: China says ready for 'friendly relations' with Taliban after rout

During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's meeting with a Taliban delegation in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin last month, he said he hoped Afghanistan could adopt a moderate Islamic policy.

China has cited religious extremism as a destabilising force in its western Xinjiang region and has long worried that Taliban-controlled territory would be used to harbour separatist forces.

China is ready to deepen "friendly and cooperative" relations with Afghanistan, a government spokeswoman said Monday, after the Taliban seized control of the country.

Beijing has sought to maintain unofficial ties with the Taliban throughout the US' withdrawal from Afghanistan, which spurred an advance by the insurgents across the country that saw them capture the capital Kabul on Sunday.

China shares a rugged 76-kilometre (47-mile) border with Afghanistan.

Beijing has long feared Afghanistan could become a staging point for minority Uyghur separatists in the sensitive border region of Xinjiang.

But a top-level Taliban delegation met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin last month, promising that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militants.

In exchange, China offered economic support and investment for Afghanistan's reconstruction.

On Monday, China said it "welcomed" the chance to deepen ties with Afghanistan, a country that has for generations been coveted for its geo-strategic importance by bigger powers.

"The Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations with China, and that they look forward to China's participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

Read more: Recognition only after an inclusive Afghan govt: China

"We welcome this. China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop... friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan."

Hua called on the Taliban to "ensure a smooth transition" of power and keep its promises to negotiate the establishment of an "open and inclusive Islamic government" and ensure the safety of Afghans and foreign citizens.

China's embassy in Kabul remains operational, Hua said, although Beijing began evacuating Chinese citizens from the country months ago amid the deteriorating security situation.

Maintaining stability after decades of war in its western neighbour will be Beijing's main consideration, as it seeks to secure its borders and strategic infrastructure investments in neighbouring Pakistan, home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics, analysts say.

The Taliban meanwhile may consider China a crucial source of investment and economic support, either directly or via Pakistan.

China has so far stopped short of officially recognising the Taliban as the new leaders of Afghanistan, but Wang Yi called them a "decisive military and political force" during last month's meeting in Tianjin.

(With input from AFP)

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