The Afghan government and the Taliban have both expressed their friendly attitude toward China. This is certainly good for China. Yet I saw some people have described the Taliban as an enemy of China’s national interests and called for the antagonism of China against the group. Such a claim is emotional, naive and deeply out of place in my opinion.
As a matter of fact, the US has no longer called the Taliban a terrorist group, and has engaged with it. British Defence Minister Ben Wallace recently said the UK will work with the Taliban should the group come to power in Afghanistan. If China were to turn against the Taliban at this point, it would be tantamount to digging a diplomatic trap by itself. I don’t believe that scenario would take place.
Some Chinese netizens do not understand Afghanistan. They have put labels on the Taliban and showed abhorrence against it because of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha, and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which once had activities on Taliban’s domain. This is understandable. But as far as I know, the relationship between the Taliban and the ETIM cannot be defined as that the Taliban supports ETIM launching terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. The Taliban tends to go to extremes on religious matters and shares values with many terrorist groups. To what extent will their shared values lead to real acts requires an objective assessment.
In recent years, some government departments in China have had both formal and informal contacts with the Taliban, and the Chinese government has never made an open and formal conclusion that the Taliban supports ETIM. Today, not even the US and the UK tag the Taliban as a “terrorist group,” let alone China.
China doesn’t interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. It strongly supports all Afghan parties to resolve the risk of a full-scale civil war through peaceful negotiations. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban are two separate groups. The two organizations are not affiliated with each other. Pakistan resolutely fights against the Pakistani Taliban in its territory, while it used to officially recognize the former Afghan Taliban regime. It is suspected that the Pakistani Taliban is one of the suspected groups behind the terrorist attack against Chinese engineers in northern Pakistan on Wednesday.
The situation around Afghanistan is rather complex, but China clearly knows what its national interests are. We should not create enemies for ourselves at this crunch time. In particular, we should not easily reject the goodwill from the Taliban, which is of great significance to our exerting influence in Afghanistan and maintaining stability in Xinjiang.
International relations are changing all the time. Value-oriented diplomacy can only be used when it is highly aligned with the national interests. Some observers keep advocating China to make an enemy of the Taliban, which is in line with the interests of the US with no benefit to China at all. I believe most of Chinese can figure this out, and China’s professional diplomatic team will not be influenced by some extremist voices on the internet. They will engage with all factions in Afghanistan to safeguard China’s national interests and the stability of Afghanistan and implement the best-grounded policy toward Afghanistan.
The author is editor-in-chief of the Global Times.