The Reality of the Rising Taliban in Afghanistan and China’s Expectations

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In the 21st century, when the global power struggle has shifted from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific geography, Afghanistan stands out as the main playground of the “New Great Game”. Because with the withdrawal of the United States of America (USA) from Afghanistan, the bells of civil war are ringing in the region and the interest of regional and global actors in this country is increasing. Moreover, due to these interests, it is thought that a possible civil war in Afghanistan may turn into a proxy war. Because on the one side, warlords constitute militia groups in their regions; on the other side, the Taliban are gaining critical dominance in the country. While all these going on, the Kabul administration is trying to maintain an established system with the support of various actors.

In this environment, groups organized in different regions against the Taliban are likely to create a conjuncture that may open the gate to option or federation or separation, as well as the rapid advance of the Taliban and inability of the Afghan Army to offer significant resistance, the movement in question establishing its sovereignty in the country; that is, it also includes the possibility of establishing an “Islamic Emirate”. Regional and global actors also determine their expectations and targets regarding Afghanistan by considering the scenarios in question. One of the actors that closely follows the developments in Afghanistan is China. Especially after the Wakhan Corridor on the Chinese border came under the control of the Taliban, the Afghanistan policy of the Beijing administration became a matter of curiosity. Because the Western media states that radical elements can infiltrate China through the Wakhan Corridor.[1]

It is possible to refer to two issues that identify the Beijing administration’s Afghanistan policy. The first of these is based on the anxiety created by the rise of radicalization in the country in question. In other words, the Beijing administration is afraid that the developments based in Afghanistan will demonstrate a process that will destabilize its lands.

At this point, it can be pointed that China is aware of the game that the USA wants to found. For this reason, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed during a press conference that the USA quickly withdrew its troops in order to cause confusion in the region.[2] Therefore, the priority of the Beijing administration is to make Afghanistan a stable country and to achieve perpetual peace, despite the withdrawal of American elements.

Understandably, China needs the Taliban for the sustainability of the Belt-Road Project, even if it considers that an Afghanistan scenario in which the Taliban takes power or the civil war prevails is risky in terms of radicalization.[3] Because the priority of China, which is one of the most serious investors in Afghanistan, is the protection of these investments.

Beijing, which thinks that the Kabul administration has difficulties throughout the country in terms of providing security, needs the assistance of the Taliban in this regard. In another saying, China believes that the Afghan government won’t be able to protect Chinese investments. China even considers that if they ignore the Taliban, their investments may become the new target of Taliban attacks. This also means that Beijing has to compromise with the Taliban.

It can be said that Beijing has made serious progress in finding a middle way with the Taliban. As a matter of fact, Taliban Spokesperson Sühely Şahin’s statement on July 9, 2021, pointed that they are pleased with China’s investments in Afghanistan and that they will ensure the safety of both investors and workers, indicates that Beijing has agreed with the Taliban to meet the aforementioned requirement.[4]

In other respects, another issue that draws attention in Şahin’s statement is like an assurance given to China’s fear of radicalization due to the rising Taliban reality. Because Şahin announced that they would not allow separatist groups to enter Afghanistan. This means that there is a consensus between the Beijing administration and the Taliban on the future of Afghanistan.

All this framework, while the Washington administration wants to strike a blow to China’s global goals by withdrawing from Afghanistan; It points out that Beijing wants to fill the power vacuum formed by American elements with the image of “actor who can build peace” and tries to increase its influence in the region through investments to this country. This is why the Beijing administration is trying to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is one of the six important economic corridors within the scope of the Belt-Road Project, to Afghanistan and to strengthen its land connections. However, the USA wants to gain superiority in the East China Sea and the South China Sea by directing China to deal with Afghanistan; In other words, it is claimed that Beijing has drawn its attention to other geographies.[5]

As a result, developments based in Afghanistan cause an increase in the US-China rivalry. While the Washington administration wants to disrupt China’s goals by leaving chaos and civil war behind; Beijing, on the other hand, seeks ways to become a relatively hegemonic actor that can establish a stable order. In this geopolitical struggle, there is a strong possibility that Beijing will be effective in the future of Afghanistan by making an agreement with the Taliban. However, the fact that the USA has turned China’s attention away from the East China Sea and the South China Sea also shows that a completely different game can be formed.

[1] “How Big A Security Threat Does China Face as Taliban Draws Closer to Border with Xinjiang?”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202107/1228488.shtml, (Date of Accession: 14.07.2021).

[2] “Çin: ABD, Afganistan’da Karmaşa Yaratmaya Çalışıyor”, Aydınlık, https://aydinlik.com.tr/haber/cin-abd-afganistan-da-karmasa-yaratmaya-calisiyor-250375, (Date of Accession: 14.07.2021).

[3] “China Prepares to Move into Afghanistan with $62 Billion ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative as American Troops Leave”, Insider Paper, https://insiderpaper.com/china-belt-and-road-afghanistan-us-forces-leave/amp/?__twitter_impression=true, (Date of Accession: 14.07.2021).

[4] Amy Chew, “China A ‘Welcome Friend’ for Reconstruction in Afghanistan: Taliban Spokesman”, SCMP, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3140399/china-welcome-friend-reconstruction-afghanistan-taliban, (Date of Accession: 14.07.2021).

[5] Emil Avdaliani, “China’s Aims and Opportunities in Afghanistan Amidst America’s Exit”, China Observers¸ https://chinaobservers.eu/chinas-aims-and-opportunities-in-afghanistan-amidst-americas-exit/, (Date of Accession: 14.07.2021).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
ANKASAM Uluslararası İlişkiler Uzmanı