China and the Taliban Move Toward a Marriage of Convenience: Experts

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
August 22, 2021 Updated: August 25, 2021

After the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15, both the Chinese regime and the Taliban said they looked forward to building a friendship with each other. The Chinese regime, however, has come short of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers, whereas the Taliban has said that China can contribute to Afghanistan’s development.

While reports continue to come of the Taliban conducting door-to-door searches and killing people, including journalists and women, the Taliban spokesperson has been giving interviews offering amnesty, women’s rights, and media freedom. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, in a press conference on Aug. 19, seemed to support the Taliban narrative, saying the “Afghan Taliban will not repeat the history of the past and now they are more clear-eyed and rational.”

A source has confirmed to The Epoch Times that the Taliban, since its takeover, has been conducting door-to-door searches for intellectuals and journalists.

Days before the Taliban took over the capital, an Epoch Times Kabul-based source said on condition of anonymity that in the month of June alone, 51 targeted killings by “unknown men” were reported around the country.

The Taliban hasn’t been taking credit for most of the targeted killings, which are of civilians, since the U.S.–Taliban peace deal was signed in February 2020. The deal limits the kinds of attacks the terrorists can conduct, and the Taliban strategy of not taking credit for the assassinations is linked to peace-talk diplomacy, according to a report in January by news website Gandhara.

In any case, reports of Taliban violence haven’t deterred the Chinese regime from working with the Taliban. Experts say the regime has intensified contact with the Taliban after Aug. 15 and that preparations are in full swing for a marriage of convenience.

Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said China is “providing international support to the Taliban and possibly intelligence and logistics support against the United States,” and that “by doing so, it wants to further humiliate the United States and contribute to its decline in the region.”

“In the short term, China is likely to provide all support to the Taliban to overrun Afghanistan and form a stable government,” he said. China is in touch with the Taliban through its own military links as well as Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), he said.

On Aug. 18, China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it had not yet officially recognized the Taliban as ruling Afghanistan, and that recognition would come after a government is formed.

Epoch Times Photo
Afghanistan’s Taliban militia STR/AFP/Getty Images

History of CCP–Taliban Friendship

The relationship between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Taliban can be traced back to the 1970s when the Chinese military intelligence trained the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Kondapalli said.

“According to Gen. Xiong Guangkai (ex PLA deputy chief of general staff), hundreds of Chinese trainers provided training, arms—AK-47s and Red Arrow missiles—to the mujahideen in Xinjiang and other contiguous areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the post-Soviet years, China consolidated its relations with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, specifically with the Hekmatyar group prior to the 9/11 events,” he said.

Reports of contacts run deeper, as China paid the Taliban for captured, unexploded, and even detonated U.S. arms. An October 2001 Guardian report claimed that China paid bin Laden several million dollars to access an unexploded American cruise missile.

About a year before, at the end of 2000, the U.N. Security Council proposed sanctions on the Taliban to force it to close bin Laden’s terrorist training camps located on its territory, but the People’s Republic of China abstained from the vote. Instead, it sent military personnel to support the Taliban immediately after the United States began airstrikes in Afghanistan.

“China’s ambassador to Pakistan engaged [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar with the proposal not to aid the Uyghurs, [in exchange for] protection at [the Security Council] for the Taliban. Post 911, China continued its links with the Taliban and its supporter the ISI of Pakistan, and articulated the view that the Kabul government should be broad-based,” meaning the Taliban should be given positions in the government, Kondapalli said.

Additionally, in 2004, Chinese intelligence agencies used shell companies in financial markets around the world to help bin Laden raise funds and launder money, according to a report published by the Association for Asian Research.

Asked about media reports on China’s close contacts with the Taliban, a Chinese spokesperson denied them in a press conference in August 2001.

However, China’s interest in Afghanistan has long been known. “China’s involvement in Afghanistan has been primarily to secure access to Afghan minerals and other resources; to help its ally Pakistan avoid encirclement by India; and to reduce the Islamist militant threat to China itself,” Kenneth Katzman and Clayton Thomas wrote in a 2017 paper published by the Congressional Research Service (pdf).

Filmmaker Brent E. Huffman said that the regime is aiming for unfettered access to Afghanistan’s resources, now that the Taliban is in power. Huffman directed the widely acclaimed documentary “Saving Mes Aynak,” about a 5,000-year-old Buddhist site that sits on a copper mine near Kabul.

Chinese state-owned mining Company MCC bought the mining rights at Mes Aynak for $100 billion in 2007, he said. The mine is located in Logar Province in an area close to Taliban strongholds.

“In the past, the Taliban have attacked Mes Aynak with rockets and landmines. In 2018, an Afghan archaeologist was killed when his vehicle hit a landmine when he arrived at the site,” Huffman told The Epoch Times.

The Afghan archeologists working at the site were constantly threatened by the Taliban, he said, and now after Aug. 15, they fear for their lives.

“China hopes to partner with the Taliban to mine at Mes Aynak without restrictions related to protecting the environment, human rights, and cultural heritage,” he said.

Huffman said that when China begins to dig under the Taliban’s protection at the open-pit copper mine in Mes Aynak, it will destroy a priceless world heritage forever.

The value of Afghanistan’s mineral resources is estimated at $1 trillion, including the rare-earth minerals whose supply chains China predominates.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Chunying said in a press conference on Aug. 17 that the CCP “maintained contact and communication with the Afghan Taliban on the basis of fully respecting Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the will of all factions in the country, and played a constructive role in promoting the political settlement of the Afghan issue.”

Future for CCP–Taliban Relations

Frank Lehberger, a sinologist and a senior research fellow with India-based Usanas Foundation, told The Epoch Times in an email that the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and the CCP will be like a marriage of convenience, but the CCP will try to portray it as a close strategic partnership.

“The CCP needs a relatively stable Afghanistan for its BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] plans. The Taliban could deliver this if they will not engage in a protracted civil war inside Afghanistan with genocidal acts against Shiite or Turkmen minorities, all of which would draw in armed intervention by the Turks or the Iranians,” Lehberger said, “and if the Taliban do not follow their expansive reflexes in trying to grab land or wholesale destabilize neighboring pro-Moscow regimes in Central Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc.) … which would provoke Putin.”

He added that the Taliban is likely to bend over backward to accommodate the wishes of the CCP in some scenarios.

“As long as the CCP leadership quickly pays the amounts of foreign currencies or provides all the infrastructure investments that the Afghanistan-Taliban want, and as long as the CCP does not obstruct the now growing export trade of illicit narcotics from Taliban controlled Afghanistan to Europe (which benefits the Afghanistan-Taliban and helps weaken the so-called infidels in Europe), then the Taliban will be ‘nice’ to China,” he said.

In this scenario, the Taliban will ignore how the CCP treats Muslims inside China and will chase away the remaining Uyghur or other Muslim separatists within Afghanistan’s territory and on its borders near the Wakhan corridor that borders Xinjiang Province in China, according to Lehberger.

“But if the CCP is unwilling or unable to provide the expected finances in time, or if China does anything that does not please the Taliban, then the Taliban will very fast bite the Chinese hands that feed them,” he said.

Ahmad Rashid Salim, a best-selling author, community leader, and academic in California who researches and teaches on topics in the fields of Islamic studies, Farsi literature, and Afghanistan, said that China’s announcement that it will work with the Taliban should alarm the world.

“China is known for its repressive system and human rights abuses—recently related to the encampment, torture, and disappearance of Uyghur Muslims and erasure of their culture and heritage,” Salim told The Epoch Times.

“As long as the ruling regime allows for Chinese companies to exploit the resources, China does not care what they do to the population or how oppressive their rule is.”

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.