At a time when the U.S. and NATO forces are accelerating their withdrawal and the domestic situation in Afghanistan is volatile, the fourth tripartite dialogue between the foreign ministers of China, Afghanistan and Pakistan was successfully held recently, injecting new positive momentum into the bleak prospects of (evolution of) the situation in Afghanistan. In the Tripartite Joint Statement as well as China’s “five-point proposal” and “four-point cooperation idea”, China’s image as a responsible power is not only recognized by all sides again, but also can be regarded as a vivid example of the concept of “constructive intervention” in neighborhood diplomacy. This is a vivid practice of the concept of “constructive engagement” in neighborhood diplomacy. This is in stark contrast to some countries that readily emphasize the priority of self-interest, prefer military pressure when they are strong and choose to “withdraw” when they are weak.
The periphery (of any country) is no minor matter; the periphery is most important, and the basic board, for settling things. For a long time, China has not only been one of the countries with the longest borderline and the most neighboring countries in the world, but also one of the countries with the most neighboring military powers, nuclear neighbors, and land-sea disputes. Reality shows that, “regardless of the geographical position, natural environment, or mutual relationship, the periphery is of great strategic importance to China”. Years ago, “South Asia cannot be chaotic, India and Pakistan cannot be at war, and terrorist forces cannot be rampant” was the core of China’s South Asia diplomacy. Today’s times are changing. Under the great changes in the past century, the paradigm, methods, and specific content of China’s diplomacy will also be adjusted and changed with the improvement of its overall national strength and the evolution of the regional situation. Ensuring that Afghanistan, which has been in the throes of war for 40 years, does not fall into chaos again due to the hasty withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and the return of terrorist extremists has always been one of China’s diplomatic priorities in Central and South Asia.
At present, as the world’s second largest economy and the largest neighbor of most neighboring countries, China is increasingly confident and capable of “constructive intervention” in the resolution of hotspot issues, putting forward more Chinese initiatives and Chinese solutions focusing on management of regional conflicts and maintenance of peace and stability. In my opinion, this diplomatic paradigm is the inheritance and development of the concept of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries in the new era, which helps to promote the development of the situation in Afghanistan in a direction that conforms to the common interests of Afghanistan and regional countries. At least in the case of Afghanistan, this diplomatic paradigm has been demonstrated in five points.
First, it has always taken respect for sovereignty and sensitive concerns as a prerequisite for “constructive engagement”. China has always adhered to the fundamental principle of “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, emphasizing that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people and calling on all parties to the Afghan peace talks to jointly explore a governance model and development path that is consistent with their own national conditions. At the same time, China is aware of the existing realities of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and understands the importance of the development of the situation in Afghanistan for Pakistan. For a long time, it has been the core of Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan to build a “security barrier” in the west and to prevent the emergence of a government in Kabul that is hostile to it and used by other powers in the region and beyond.
In this regard, China highly appreciates the unique role of the Pakistani side in facilitating the Doha agreement and promoting the initiation of Afghan domestic peace talks, and encourages the Pakistani side to continue to use its advantages and strengths and make new efforts, while calling on the Afghan side to look positively at the sincerity and contribution of the Pakistani side. Unlike the “bias” of some major powers, China’s position is impartial, neutral and objective, which is naturally welcomed by both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Secondly, China takes the initiative to create a good offices platform and encourages bilateral and multilateral dialogue. Since the Doha agreement was reached, the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan has been slowed down by various disturbances, and the risk of “sailing against the current, or going backwards” has increased, and the international community is generally worried that the situation may be reversed again. On the one hand, some powers choose to cut military and economic aid to pressure the Afghan government, and on the other hand, they try to force the Taliban to compromise and make concessions, making the situation increasingly chaotic.
At this critical juncture, China made it clear in the talks that it is willing to hold an internal dialogue with the Afghan side and provide all facilitation and support, advocate the establishment of an additional mechanism for dialogue among the tripartite special envoys for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, maintain close communication on specific steps to advance the peace talks, encourage the Afghan government to make better decisions, A more attractive and feasible peace talks plan will push the Taliban to return to the political mainstream, meeting each other halfway. And, at the same time, commit to working with the Pakistani side and other stakeholders involved in Afghanistan to increase efforts to to promote peace talks and mediation, so as to create an atmosphere and environment for reconciliation and peaceful reconstruction.
Thirdly, in response to the call of the international community, we have openly proposed a political framework for Afghanistan. Some in the international community are already worried that Afghanistan may face an armed seizure of power by the Taliban and a repeat of the establishment of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” 25 years ago, which will once again become a hotbed of terrorist extremist forces and trigger confrontation between major powers inside and outside the region. In this regard, China reiterates that all parties in Afghanistan should strictly abide by the international consensus reached in Security Council Resolution 2513, and proposes that the future political framework of Afghanistan should not go backwards, but should pursue a moderate Muslim policy internally, firmly combat terrorism, and promote peace diplomacy on all fronts externally, especially friendly relations with neighboring countries, so as to promote regional cooperation and national reconstruction under a broadly inclusive framework.
Fourth, we advocate collective security and aim at filling security loopholes rather than power vacuums. For a period of time, some politicians and public opinion in Western countries have been unwilling to withdraw from Afghanistan, a strategic location, exaggerating that China will take the opportunity to expand its geopolitical and security influence and fill the “power vacuum” after the withdrawal of its troops. At the same time, some of its neighbors have high hopes for China in the face of the continuing volatility and potential spillover of security in Afghanistan. On the security issue of Afghanistan, China’s attitude is clear. On the one hand, focusing on the actual situation that Afghanistan’s own counter-terrorism and stability maintenance capacity is insufficient, it advocates collective security, calls on the international community and regional countries to provide support, promotes the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to play a greater role, and encourages the Afghan side to communicate and cooperate with neighboring countries in a timely manner, so as to jointly form a greater joint force to help Afghanistan cease violence and restore peace. On the other hand, we urge the United States to fulfill its due obligations, realise orderly and responsible withdrawal of troops, prevent the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan, and avoid the return of terrorist forces.
Fifth, we should promote both the symptoms and the root causes and give full play to China’s advantages to promote post-war reconstruction. The war in Afghanistan started in the 1970s, and the economic and livelihood issues are the major reasons for violence so far. China proposes to build “One Belt and One Road” with high quality, support the expansion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor cooperation to Afghanistan, strengthen anti-epidemic cooperation, expand economic and trade exchanges, and create new projects for the benefit of the people. China is willing to play its role in infrastructure, communication, technology, medical care, disaster mitigation, etc. in the context of building a new development pattern with the domestic cycle as the mainstay and the domestic and international cycles promoting each other. The government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is committed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, so that the dividends of China’s development can better benefit its neighbors and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
(The author is a researcher and director of the Research Department of the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Tsinghua University)
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