China likely to recognize Taliban as Afghan rulers with fall of Kabul

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China has been laying the groundwork to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, flying in the face of the U.S. warning the group about isolation from the international community.

The Taliban largely completed their swift sweep across Afghanistan on Sunday as they entered the capital of Kabul amid a frenzied and chaotic U.S. evacuation of its embassy and its rush for the exit. The Chinese government held high-level meetings with Taliban leaders late last month, and Chinese officials and state-run media outlets signaled a growing acceptance of the Taliban’s takeover just under 20 years after the brutal group was ousted from power by the United States for their role in harboring and partnering with al Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In recent days, the U.S. warned the Taliban about responses from the international community and has even claimed that China is aligned with the U.S. on Afghanistan. The Trump administration cut a troubled deal with the Taliban in early 2020, which the Taliban repeatedly violated. China has increased its economic, intelligence, and military partnership with Pakistan in recent years — and the Pakistani government has a large amount of influence over the Taliban.

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday: “The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community.”

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said at the United Nations earlier this month: “The Taliban must hear from the international community that we will not accept a military takeover of Afghanistan or a return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. The Taliban will be isolated and an international pariah if they choose that path.” Chargé d'Affaires Ross Wilson, the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, tweeted Thursday, “Attempts to monopolize power through violence, fear, & war will only lead to international isolation.”

Beyond clear public signals from Beijing that it was cozying up to the Taliban, U.S. News and World Report said on Thursday it had learned that “China is prepared to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan” and that “new Chinese military and intelligence assessments of the realities on the ground in Afghanistan have prompted leaders in the Chinese Communist Party to prepare to formalize their relationship with the insurgent network.”

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China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi met with Taliban commander Ghani Baradar in late July, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry stating that Wang “said that China is Afghanistan’s largest neighbor and always respects Afghanistan’s sovereign independence and territorial integrity.” Wang 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” and that he hoped the Taliban “will put the country and the nation's interests first, hold high the banner of peace talks, establish peace goals, establish a positive image, and pursue an inclusive policy.” Wang also said he hoped the Taliban “will completely draw a line with all terrorist organizations.”

The Chinese government said the Taliban commander “said that China has always been a trustworthy and good friend of the Afghan people, and appreciates China's fair and active role in the process of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.” Baradar reportedly said the Taliban “are fully sincere in striving for and achieving peace and are willing to work with all parties to build a political structure in Afghanistan that is inclusive and acceptable to all the Afghan people to protect human rights and the rights of women and children” and that the Taliban “will never allow any forces to use Afghanistan’s territory to do things that endanger China.” The Chinese government said Baradar “hopes that China will participate more in the Afghan peace reconstruction process and play a greater role in Afghan reconstruction and economic development in the future.”

Signaling where China thought things were headed, the Chinese state-run Global Times published a piece Friday where they interviewed Dr. Latif Pedram, leader of the National Congress Party of Afghanistan, who lavished praise on China and added: “We are in agreement with the Taliban's position on the China projects and we consider it wise and correct. … We expect that China will cooperate more than ever to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping held a call in mid-July with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, where China said Xi “emphasized that China firmly supports the Afghan government” and that China will support “the process of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.” Ghani reportedly fled the country on Sunday.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted in late July, “The Islamic Emirate assured China that Afghanistan would be its territory is not used against the security of any country. China pledged to continue and expand its cooperation with the Afghan people.”

Afghanistan’s ambassador in China, Javid Ahmad Qaem, futilely pushed Beijing to pressure the Taliban, telling the South China Morning Post last week that China should “be very clear to them that the way they want to govern is not going to be accepted” and that “we believe China can use that leverage to convince Pakistan to see a peaceful Afghanistan.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about the Taliban-China meeting in late July, and he argued that China’s role could be positive in Afghanistan.

“Well, I think many countries immediately neighboring Afghanistan and in the broader region, including China, have interests in Afghanistan. And as it happens, those interests largely align,” Blinken said. “No one, whether it’s the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Central Asian countries — no one has an interest in Afghanistan falling into an enduring civil war. No one has an interest in a military takeover of the country by the Taliban, the restoration of an Islamic emirate. Everyone has an interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict and some kind of government that emerges that’s truly representative and inclusive. And so if China is acting on those interests, if other countries are acting on those interests, that’s a positive thing.”

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State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about the Taliban-China meetings in early August, and he also said the interests of the U.S. and China were aligned and that the U.S. welcomed China’s role.

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