By: Meryem Betül KEBAP
The announcement of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, has led to a huge vacuum in the region. Taliban began a series of attacks to fill this gap and has increased its influence in large swathes of Afghanistan.
In addition, the presence of terrorist organizations such as ISIS in the region is known. Subsequently, the Afghan government is fighting against the Taliban and other organizations.
As a consequence of the ongoing conflict, the Afghan people have been deeply affected and many of them are forced to migrate. Furthermore, there is a severe instability in the country which brings about a lot of burden on regional states. As such, many states have attempted to assemble peace talks and multilateral agreements to end this state of chaos.
By the same token, Afghanistan and Central Asian states are crucial for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Hence, instability in the region negatively affects China’s investments and projects, which is are important building blocks for China’s quest in becoming a trade giant.
This being the case, as The Asia Today editorial board, we interviewed Dr. Zhanggiu Zhou – Research Fellow of Overseas Safety and Security Programs, NTS-PD at Zhejiang University – about China’s policies towards the regions and initiatives to stabilize the Belt and Road routes.
Dr. ZHOU Zhanggui is the Director of Institute for Overseas Safety and Security, under the Centre for NTS-PD, Zhejiang University. He also serves as the Consultant of United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and is an observer of ICoCA (International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association)
He had for a long time served as the Program Officer at the International Centre on Small Hydro Power (under auspices of UNIDO and China’s ministry of water resources), in charge of international collaboration for multilateral projects.
His current research interests are in overseas safety and security, security risk assessment, hydro-politics, energy security, as well as other non-traditional security issues.
1) What do you think about China’s post-US Afghanistan policy and the relationship with the Taliban? Could you explain in the context of China’s national interest?
Due to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and its impact on the internal situation of Afghanistan, the post-US Afghanistan issue is becoming a hot spot. China has a unified foreign policy for a long time. Generally speaking, China has always pursued an independent foreign policy of peace, including consistently adhering to the five principles of peaceful coexistence. Under the guidance of China’s foreign policy, China has established and developed friendly and cooperative diplomatic relations with many countries and regions. No matter how the political situation in Afghanistan changes, China will carry out foreign relations under the above guiding principles of unified diplomacy.
I noticed from the media that the Afghan Taliban delegation has just concluded its visit to China in the end of July. According to relevant reports, on July 28, Chinese State Councilor and foreign minister Mr. Wang Yi met with the visiting Afghan Taliban delegation in Tianjin. On this meeting, Mr. Wang Yi pointed out that China is Afghanistan’s largest neighbor, always respects Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, always adheres to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and always pursues a friendly policy for all Afghan people. The hasty withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan actually marks the failure of US policy towards Afghanistan, and the Afghan people have an important opportunity to stabilize and develop their country.
In this regard, later that day, a Taliban spokesman posted on a social platform that China and them discussed politics, economy and related topics related to the security of the two sides, the situation in Afghanistan and the peace process. At the meeting, China also reiterated its position of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and the above-mentioned Chinese foreign minister’s statement clarified his position on Afghanistan and the Taliban.
Generally speaking, China maintains a “cautious approach” towards the Afghan Taliban. This can be analyzed from the setting venue of the current visit to Tianjin. Tianjin, is the city next to the capital Beijing. In addition to the necessity of epidemic prevention and control, it also shows the informality of this meeting and contact.
In addition, China has made relevant adjustments in personnel and affairs in Afghanistan. On July 21, 2021, foreign ministry spokesman Mr. Zhao Lijian announced at a regular press conference that, China appointed Mr. Yue Xiaoyong as the special envoy of the Chinese Ministry of foreign affairs for Afghanistan. Mr. Yue later stressed in Doha, Qatar, on the 29th that the Afghan issue should be resolved politically. His current trip to Doha aims to communicate and coordinate with the parties to the Afghan peace talks and important stakeholders in the international region related to Afghanistan, promote consensus building, and, in particular, jointly explore ways and means to achieve peace, reconciliation and stable development in Afghanistan at an early date with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. He also stressed that China will, as always, make positive efforts to solve the Afghan issue politically and contribute to world peace, security and stability.
I believe that a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan is not only conducive to regional development, but also fits China’s interests.
2)How do you evaluate China’s investment as part of the Belt and Road Initiative in Afghanistan? Will the investments affect relations with the Taliban?
Since Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, it is an open and inclusive regional cooperation initiative rather than a “closed circle” of China. China has been working on for many years, including expanding the global maritime trade network connecting the entire Eurasian continent. I think China is willing to increase Afghanistan’s participation in its regional economic development projects. In 2016, China and Afghanistan signed the memorandum of understanding for BRI.
In general speaking, BRI is a huge infrastructure project network. I believe it will bring common benefits to China and Arab countries. First, capital will be injected into Afghanistan to help it build transit routes and other infrastructure projects. The initiative can benefit Afghanistan, which is threatened by poverty and instability. Afghanistan will have many opportunities to export marketable goods and commodities to Central Asia, the Gulf region, South Asia, especially China, including carpets, dried fruits, vegetables and so on. This will eventually stimulate the economic growth of Afghanistan, which is definitely a timely help to Afghanistan.
In my view, the severe security situation in Afghanistan makes it unable to carry out the formal economic agenda and has been separated from most of China’s intercontinental projects.
3) Do you think that the formation of an all-catching Afghan government, including the Taliban can provide a stable political environment in which China’s investments will be safe?
No matter how the situation in Afghanistan changes in the future, China will continue to adhere to a consistent foreign policy. When it comes to the security protection for investors, in my opinion, the host country has the primary responsibility to protect the security of foreign capital and personnel, which will test the capacity of the Afghan government. Security is a prerequisite for all investment and development issues. When security cannot be guaranteed, any country, enterprise and institution will maintain a relatively cautious attitude.
In recent years, the Chinese government has paid more and more attention to the security protection of overseas Chinese institutions and personnel. This also includes timely reminding Chinese institutions and personnel to pay attention to strengthening self-defense and through bilateral and multilateral communication and cooperation. However, the host country has still the primary responsibility to protect the security of foreign capital and personnel.
4) How will the rise of radical movements in Afghanistan affects Beijing?
I think as the largest neighbor of Afghanistan, China has always respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, always adhered to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and always pursued a friendly policy for all Afghan people. As foreign minister Wang Yi stressed on the Tianjing meeting with Taliban, the ” East Turkistan Islam Organization ” is an international terrorist organization listed by the UN Security Council and poses a direct threat to China’s national security and territorial integrity. Cracking down on the “East Turkistan movement” is the common responsibility of the international community. It is hoped rom Chinese government that Taliban will resolutely and effectively crack down on all terrorist organizations such as East Turkistan Islam Organization, remove obstacles for regional security, stability and development cooperation, play an active role and create favorable conditions.
5) How do you evaluate China and Central Asia states relationships in the context of developments in Afghanistan?
China was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of the Central Asian countries and establish diplomatic relations with them. After years of unremitting efforts by both sides, the political mutual trust between China and Central Asian countries has been continuously strengthened. China and Central Asian countries support each other on issues related to their core interests, completely solve the border problem, constantly expand and deepen cooperation in economic, security, humanities and other fields. In my opinion, the relationship between China and Central Asian countries is manifested in bilateral and multilateral levels, mainly through international organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the United Nations. China’s foreign policy will not fluctuate due to the current and future Afghanistan situation.