Recently, China announced its new ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing, who presented himself at a lavish ceremony in Kabul last week. He is the first foreign envoy to occupy an ambassador position since the Taliban took power in August 2021. The Taliban has not been officially recognized by any government, but they celebrated this moment as “the beginning of a new chapter.” The Chinese foreign ministry, however, tried to downplay hopes for formal recognition of the de facto authorities.
Observers said that the appointment indicates China’s openness to create close ties with the Taliban regime. Beijing kept their ambassador-level relations and their embassy in Kabul after the fall of the previous government. Other countries and bodies, including Pakistan and the European Union have sent senior diplomats on missions using the title “charge d’affaires” which does not require presenting ambassadorial credentials to the host nations, as China did.
Zhao said that China was “a good neighbor of Afghanistan” and “fully respects Afghanistan’s independence, territorial integrity and independence in decision-making.” The Taliban has been criticized globally for their treatment of women and human rights violations. Countries in the region care more about security and economic ties than human rights issues, which they consider an internal problem. In May, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to work together tri-laterally to counter terrorism and strengthen security. The Taliban has also been accused of allowing various extremist terrorist groups to flourish within the country.
Afghanistan is a key region to China. It falls in Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Militants of the Turkistan Islamic Party along Afghanistan’s border with China’s Xinjiang region have targeted Chinese projects in the past to retaliate against Beijing’s mistreatment of Muslim minorities of the Uyghur ethnic group. Such mistreatment includes mass detentions, forced labor, “re-education” of the Uyghur population, and abuse of a million Uyghurs under surveillance – all of which China has denied. The Taliban has vowed to help China in the removal of these militants from Afghanistan and that it would not allow the Uyghur leaders to operate against China from Afghanistan’s territory. Thousands of Uyghurs have fled to Afghanistan, but now fear becoming victims of China’s influence on the country.
This comes ahead of Russia reportedly inviting the Taliban to attend the Moscow Format later this month in the Russian city of Kazan. Spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the goal is to “bring together key regional actors to address various aspects of Afghanistan’s situation, intra-Afghan reconciliation, regional security and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.” Russia reports that the main focus of the conference will be to form an “inclusive” government reflecting the major ethnopolitical groups within Afghanistan.
Both developments reflect a shift in the international outlook and treatment of the de facto authorities, leading in the direction of normalized relations and diplomatic recognition. We cannot forget the plight of Afghan women and the continuing human rights violations occurring in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban.
CNN 09/14/2023; BBC 09/14/2023; Reuters 09/13/2023