Oktay Kucukdegirmenci is a Ph. D Candidate in the Department of International Politics at Shandong University, China. Kucukdegirmenci, who carries out his studies on Chinese Foreign Policy, Japanese Foreign Policy, Sino-Japanese Relations, Sino-Russian Relations and geopolitics, speaks fluent English and beginner level Chinese.
Wang Yi, Member of the Chinese State Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Anthony Blinken, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United States (USA) held an important phone call on August 16, 2021.
The main agenda item of the meeting was the sudden withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan and the developments in the country afterwards. During the bilateral meeting, Wang Yi told his colleague that the hasty withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan had a serious negative impact on the situation in Afghanistan and that he would not be liable if it continued to create new problems. Wang also expressed that China is willing to cooperate with the United States on the basis of mutual respect.But why does China want to cooperate in Afghanistan with the USA, which is in competition both regionally and globally, and which is responsible for Afghanistan’s current situation?
We can find the answer to this in the geopolitical calculation of China’s expectation from the Taliban and the US withdrawal from the region. First, let’s take a look at what China expects from the Taliban. As it is known, in July 2021, a Taliban delegation met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China.
During this meeting, Wang Yi conveyed to the Taliban delegation that Beijing wants to see a “moderate Islamist policy” in Afghanistan. In this respect, the Beijing administration wants the Taliban to cut its ties with all other terrorist organizations, especially the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Although the Taliban promised not to host any factions hostile to China, as China wanted, in the talks in July, China is concerned that the ETIM is targeting its country with instability originating from Afghanistan. However, it should be noted here that the terrorist attacks in China in the past took place at the local level, not through an international connection. Therefore, the probability of terrorist attacks spreading through Afghanistan is essentially low.
But threats don’t always have to be directed at targets inside China. For example, Chinese targets in places like Pakistan may be a cause for concern. Therefore, China’s perception of Afghanistan is important. Beijing today perceives Afghanistan as a matter of managing threats. From this perspective, it can be said that China is somewhat dissatisfied with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In fact, the US presence in Afghanistan posed a geopolitical threat to China and was perceived by Beijing as such. But today, the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan does not seem to be a worse geopolitical phenomenon for China than the presence of the USA in Afghanistan.
If we look at the geopolitical calculation behind the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it can be said that the US wants to focus on its competition with China, which it sees as a global competitor, and does not want to spend its energy on the issue in Afghanistan. In addition, the USA wants to create a great regional chaos and instability by withdrawing from Afghanistan, and on this occasion, it targets China’s Belt and Road initiative. For Washington, destabilizing the project through Afghanistan seems to be an ideal scenario. Because the Taliban is an actor who can play this role. Therefore, Washington welcomed the Taliban’s re-takeover of power in Afghanistan and opened up space for it. From Washington’s point of view, the ideological backdrop of the Taliban seems appropriate to create chaos in the region. The form of government that the Taliban regime implemented in Afghanistan in the past also confirms this. A serious migrant crisis in the west, which may be caused by the Taliban regime, and the instability and human rights violations to be experienced in the country and the instability spreading to the region will soon bring the option of intervention in Afghanistan to the international agenda.
Considering all these considerations, it is very important that China wants to cooperate with the United States in Afghanistan’s future. The reason for this lies in the dim and notorious reputation of the Taliban. Although China wants to cooperate with the Taliban, it does not trust it. States always have to consider the worst-case scenario when making policy. The worst-case scenario for China regarding the Taliban is the possibility that the Taliban will establish a regime in Afghanistan, as in the past, and this will lead to regional chaos and instability. In this context, in the worst-case scenario, a military dimension, namely military intervention in Afghanistan, will come to the fore for China. However, with its thousands of years of strategic cultural tradition, China will refrain from interfering with a geography known as the cemetery of empires. Because in the statements made by the Beijing administration, it is seen that Beijing does not want to be on the field in a military sense.
But in the environment of instability and chaos that may occur in Afghanistan, which state or organization other than China should be expected to intervene militarily in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, the first country that comes to mind outside, except for China, is Russia. However, it should be expected that Moscow, with its Soviet experience, will refrain from engaging in a similar operation in Afghanistan. Therefore, the task of ensuring stability in the region will first be left to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But this organization is already under the control of China and Russia. Pakistan, an important member of the SCO, supports the Taliban. Pakistan’s important rival, India, is also a member of the SCO. Therefore, it is difficult to establish a cooperation within the SCO in the context of military intervention in Afghanistan.
Apart from the SCO as a multilateral organization, the organization that should be considered in terms of its involvement in the region is the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). However, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan, the other members of this organization other than Russia, do not have the power and capacity to bring a solution to the situation in Afghanistan. Russia, on the other hand, will not get involved for the reasons mentioned above, and will not want to confront about 20 million Muslims living within its borders.
In this context, in the worst scenario, the option of military intervention in Afghanistan appears to be either NATO intervention or an intervention under the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. China is not a NATO member and has no power or influence in the decision-making process. But it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. For this reason, in the worst case scenario for China in Afghanistan, the best scenario is to cooperate with the USA and in case of a possible military intervention, it is to do this with the UN peacekeeping force, through the UN Security Council, which it also has veto power. In this respect, China’s willingness to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan seems quite rational.
 “China willing to settle Afghan upheaval with US on the premise of mutual respect: Chinese FM”, Global Times, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202108/1231680.shtml, (Date of Accession: 17.08.2021).
 “As Taleban advances, China lays groundwork to accept an awkward reality”, The Straits Times, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/as-taleban-advances-china-lays-groundwork-to-accept-an-awkward-reality, (Date of Accession: 14.08.2021).
 Oktay Küçükdeğirmenci, “The Taliban Era in Afghanistan and China: Did the US Withdraw to Come Back”, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/en/the-taliban-era-in-afghanistan-and-china-%e2%80%8bdid-the-us-withdraw-to-come-back/, (Date of Accession: 24.08.2021).