In the last 24 hours, the Taliban have taken advantage of the withdrawal of American troops to advance in the seizure of multiple regional capitals in Afghanistan. This comes just three weeks after the leader of the Islamic extremists, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was received with great honors by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the Chinese city of Tianjin to discuss mutual interests.
After two days of negotiations in northwest China, the Taliban won the strongest support in their history. In a statement, Wang Yi singled out the Taliban as “a vitally important military and political force” and said he expects its leaders to hold “the peace talks flag” high.
China, which is seeking to take advantage of the void left by the United States to boost its strategic business in Afghanistan, would restore the good trade relationship it had with Kabul between 1996 and 2001 in exchange for the Taliban not providing support to the Muslim Uighur minority.
A strategic alliance with Taliban: business and geopolitical interests
In an official statement after the meeting with the Taliban, Wang Yi referred to the East Turkestan Independence Movement, the radical Uyghur group confronting China, as an international terrorist organization to achieve independence the Xinjiang region and said the Uyghurs pose “direct threats to China’s national security and territorial integrity.” He also urged the Taliban to confront the Uyghurs “resolutely and effectively” to create conditions for cooperation.
For his part, the Taliban’s top representative said that China “has always been a reliable friend of the Afghan people” and that he expects their active participation in the peace process in Afghanistan. In exchange for their cooperation, the Taliban pledged to prevent the use of Afghan territory to “attack” China.
Following the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, accelerated by President Joe Biden on July 1. The end of 20 years of military intervention and the strategic support of China inspired a new Taliban offensive to regain power in Kabul. In this sense, in the last few days they have already gained control of 15 of the 34 Afghan provinces.
But the Taliban are not the only ones who have seized the American withdrawal as a golden opportunity. On July 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a telephone conversation with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in search of an “Afghan-led and Afghan sovereign” solution to the internal conflict. Thus, China’s interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan smacks not only of military cooperation, but also of business. Specifically, it smells of copper and oil.
In 2007, China’s Metallurgical Group Corporation (which heads a Beijing-backed consortium) bid more than $3 billion for a 30-year lease on the giant Mes Aynak mine. The deposit holds about 11.4 million tons of copper, and could translate into about $1.2 billion in benefits for the Afghan economy.
In addition, China signed in 2012 a contract with Afghanistan, through its National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), to extract 1,950 barrels of crude oil per day at Amu Darya, with the intention that the company, (which had already invested hundreds of millions of dollars) would produce billions of dollars over the subsequent two decades and a 15 % royalty on the oil, 20 % in corporate taxes and that Beijing would keep 50 % of the profits. So China has much to gain in Afghanistan.
While the Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks are rearming their militias and the “warlords” are preparing to resume the conflicts thwarted in 2001, the Biden administration does not regret the withdrawal of troops and urges the Afghan forces to “fight for themselves.” Thus, the conditions are ripe for China to fill the Western void and assume a strategic relationship with the Taliban.