The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has moved rapidly to befriend the Taliban regime as the extremist group celebrates its conquest of Afghanistan following the final withdrawal of American troops on Aug. 31.
And the Taliban appears to be returning the gesture, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid saying on Sept. 1 that “China is our most important partner and represents for us a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity.”
In late July, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with senior Taliban military command Ghani Baradar. Wang described the Taliban as the “key military and political force in Afghanistan,” adding that the group is “expected to play an important role” in securing “peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction.”
According to the Chinese government, Baradar responded that Beijing was a good and reliable friend of the Afghan people, and that the Taliban appreciated China’s “fair and positive” role. In a Sept. 2 call with Chinese assistant foreign minister Wu Jianghao, senior Taliban member Abdul Salam Hanafi called the Chinese regime “Afghanistan’s trustworthy friend,” and said that the group would “absolutely not allow any forces to threaten Chinese interests.”
The Taliban, notorious for its brutal violence against dissidents, minorities, and women, as well as harboring the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks in 2001, has received praise from the Chinese government and state media.
Beijing has not yet formally recognized the Taliban. But both sides have spoken highly about prospects for cooperation, and the relationship goes back decades.
According to Mujahid, the Taliban was eager to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the multi-trillion-dollar project that aims to win over foreign clients and offload China’s excess industrial output.
‘Our most important partner’
“China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country… [There are] rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized. In addition, China is our pass to markets all over the world,” the Taliban spokesman said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Afghanistan is home to vast deposits of lithium, an element crucial to the production of batteries and high-tech goods. The country also serves as a land connection between China and Iran, an oil-rich dictatorship friendly with Beijing.
Beijing established relations with the Taliban in 1998 and sent diplomats to meet high-ranking Taliban leaders in the following years, despite the group’s terrorist activities.
In the Cold War, the CCP supplied and trained Afghan guerrillas against the occupying Soviet army. Chinese-language sites even purport to show photos of late al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden while he allegedly received training in China.
Sean Roberts, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Relations, said that Beijing provided telecommunications services to the Taliban regime through their initials talks and opened flights from Kabul to Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region — where the population is predominantly Muslim.
Speaking with Vision Times, Chinese dissident and professor Yuan Hongbing said that the PRC’s rush to befriend the Taliban after the withdrawal of the United States was no surprise.
According to Yuan, the CCP had set up a camp in western China’s Hexi Corridor “to train guerrilla terrorists from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.”
He named Chinese “anti-terror officials” from the Ministry of Public Security as responsible for the training. Prominent among them was former public security chief Meng Hongwei.
“According to CCP insiders, Meng once said that they only needed to spend 10,000 US dollars on training a guerrilla terrorist like the ones in the Middle East or Iraq. When these fighters return to the Middle East and Iraq, they inflict enormous military and economic losses” and “drain the national power of the United States,” Yuan said.
Meng also headed Interpol, a post he held until September 2018 when he was taken into custody upon returning to China from the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France. He has been sentenced to 13 years in prison on corruption charges.
‘Democracy’ with Chinese characteristics?
On Aug. 16, a day after the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and announced victory, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed that the result was the “will and choice” of the Afghan people.
Venus Upadhayaya, a reporter with The Epoch Times who focuses on South Asian geopolitics, noted that the CCP has used the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan as an opportunity “to push forward its misleading narratives of democracy, governance, and peace.”
Hua Chunying’s language also mirrors the propaganda used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to justify the communist takeover of China in 1949 as the will of the Chinese people following decades of foreign invasion and civil war.
The PRC government claims that its system is a “consultative” democracy, and communist doctrine calls for a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”
“For us, a key criterion of democracy is whether the country can meet people’s expectations, needs, and aspirations,” Hua said, repeating the CCP’s propensity to conflate democracy and human rights with material prosperity.