Beijing’s Support of the Taliban Will Lead Itself to Troubles and Pitfalls

August 20, 2021 Updated: August 20, 2021

Commentary

With the Taliban taking over Kabul just days ago, China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing has always played “a constructive role” in Afghanistan, during a press briefing on Aug. 17. The Chinese regime considers the situation as a strategic opportunity to be more actively involved in Afghan affairs.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the head of the Afghan Taliban Political Commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in China’s Tianjin city on July 28. Wang said, “The hasty withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan actually marks the failure of the U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.”

It seems Wang was alluding that Beijing could have done a better job than the United States. However, I believe the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would fail in standing up for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Wang’s meeting with Baradar is tantamount to the CCP officially acknowledging the political legitimacy of the Taliban. After Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s fled the country, state-run media CCTV published a video footage on Aug. 16 to whitewash the Taliban entitled, “Understanding the Taliban’s Past and Present in 60 Seconds,” but the video was taken down within four hours after its publication due to numerous criticisms, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported on Aug. 18. The video, still available on Beijing’s mouthpiece Global Times, praises the Taliban, claiming that the group is comprised of “student refugees” with “strict disciplines” and has been “supported” by Afghan citizens.

It would be very foolish if the CCP plans to support the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pitfalls

First, the CCP could experience a conflict with the Taliban over human rights abuses against ethnic groups in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.

On Jan. 19, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in a statement that the CCP is committing “genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”

“Our exhaustive documentation of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang confirms that since at least March 2017, local authorities dramatically escalated their decades-long campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo screenshot cropped
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. on Feb. 27, 2021. (Tal Atzmon/The Epoch Times)

While the Taliban will accommodate the CCP in some ways in exchange for support and economic benefits, it will neither give up its substantive support for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) nor fight with it. The Taliban wouldn’t want to risk losing its legitimacy or triggering infighting among different Islamic groups. The ETIM is a Uyghur separatist group that Beijing claims is responsible for many terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.

Second, the CCP faces constraints from inside the Taliban and from the international community.

There is still a question of whether or not the Taliban can take full control of the situation in Afghanistan.

As far as the Taliban is concerned, there are Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban. The latter used to be a branch of the former and became independent in 2007 due to differences in interests. The Afghan Taliban itself is not a monolithic group and there are considerable differences in political views among its members as well.

As far as international involvement is concerned, there are at least eight parties—the United States, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China—all of which are intertwined and complex. Undoubtedly, the CCP’s ability to intervene in the Taliban and Afghanistan is limited.

Third, the CCP faces two major direct threats from Afghanistan.

The first threat is labeled by the CCP as “Three Evil Forces”: terrorism, extremism, and separatism. The turbulence in Afghanistan has given rise to these forces that have extended to Pakistan.

On July 14, a bomb exploded in a bus full of laborers in the Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The laborers were on their way to the construction site of the Dasu hydropower project, which is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—a critical component of the CCP’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). Among the thirteen killed, nine were Chinese nationals. Twenty-eight Chinese nationals were injured in the bomb explosion. The CCP believed the incident was a terrorist attack on Chinese nationals.

The second threat is cross-border drug trafficking, which brings in the huge income that the Taliban has relied on.

The child of an Afghan farmer harvests opium sap from a poppy field in Surkh Rod District, Nangarhar Province, on May 5, 2015. Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has reached a record high in 2014, a U.N. report has revealed, highlighting the failure of the U.S.-led campaign to crack down on the lucrative crop. The total area under cultivation was about 224,000 hectares (553,500 acres) in 2014, a 7 percent increase from 2013, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
The child of an Afghan farmer harvests opium sap from a poppy field in Surkh Rod District, Nangarhar Province, on May 5, 2015. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

“Afghanistan’s illegal opiate economy is of significant size when compared to its licit economy. The country is the world’s leading producer of illicit opiates and supplies more than 80 per cent [sic] of the global illicit opium production. The illicit gross output of the Afghan opiate economy was estimated to be US$4.1-6.6 billion in 2017 and US$1.2-2.2 billion in 2018,” wrote Irmgard Zeiler of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The aforementioned threats and pitfalls are likely to become more serious after the Taliban comes to power.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi “about developments in Afghanistan, including the security situation and our respective efforts to bring U.S. and PRC citizens to safety,” according to the U.S. Department of State on Aug. 16. Perhaps this call could remind Beijing not to misjudge the situation, which might bring harm to China and the CCP itself.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Wang He
Wang He
Wang He has master’s degrees in law and history, and has studied the international communist movement. He was a university lecturer and an executive of a large private firm in China. Wang now lives in North America and has published commentaries on China’s current affairs and politics since 2017.