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Dragon Dreams: How China is Trying to Take Advantage of Taliban’s Takeover of Afghanistan

Beijing started deepening diplomatic ties with the Taliban even before it took control of Kabul by hosting a delegation in July

A report by Brookings, a think tank is predicting  how America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will impact China’s regional and global standing, taking into account that Beijing started deepening diplomatic ties with the Taliban even before it took control of Kabul by hosting a delegation in July.

Chinese officials have implied that the Taliban’s victory reflects the people’s will and asserted that America lacks resolve and competence. Since Americans no longer maintain the security of the region, it has provided China with an opportunity to play the role of filling the void  by succeeding where Washington failed, and solidify its dominance in the region.

Another report by the Atlantic has revealed that China has been a persistent supporter of toxic regimes such as Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea and has long derided Washington's promotion of democratic ideals and penchant for foreign interventions.

Despite its outreach, the jury is still out on whether China’s intense engagement with the Taliban will yield Beijing the intended results.

China’s relationship with Taliban will be foremost a commercial one, with Taliban likely to support Chinese investment to revive business ventures because western donors’ foreign aid, on which the Afghan economy is highly dependent will be most likely cut-off. Not interfering in the others’ internal affairs is also likely to be a factor since both have a history of human rights abuses.

For China, it would mean not condemning the government's abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, which shares a small border with Afghanistan or exporting extremism. For the Taliban, it means that, unless Chinese citizens are involved, China will not factor the group’s human rights record while deciding investment.

Beijing will also try to benefit from Afghanistan’s rich mineral deposits and extend its Belt and Road Initiative into the region to get direct access to the Middle East. Taliban will be cautious of its resource-hungry neighbour, since the last time Kabul had oil and gas contracts with China, it was revealed by a Foreign Policy report that the country had been running a covert espionage ring with the help of Haqqani network to hunt down Uyghur Muslims.

But China faces some major challenges while trying to ensure its concerns are addressed by the Taliban. The major source of concern, according to a report by The Diplomat, is extremist religious views of the Taliban, which do not align with the CCP’s goal to pre-empt a resurgence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Xinjiang.

Taliban-controlled areas could become an external stronghold for separatist forces and the situation in Afghanistan could threaten the stability of Xinjiang.

China's foreign minister Wang Li had told visiting Taliban representatives that he hopes that they will adopt a “moderate Islamic policy” but Taliban has close ties with other radical Islamic terrorist organisations like IS and Al-Qaida due to “common struggle and intermarriage” and ideological coherence”, according to the latest report on Afghanistan by UN.

Chinese leaders are worried about the spread of Islamic militarism and the spread of instability into adjacent regions, but harbour no ambition to transform Afghanistan or export their form of governance into the country. But not one to allow principle to stand in the way of pragmatism, they will urge Taliban to crackdown on Uyghur extremist group and deny safe haven to anyone that threatens Chinese interests in the region or destabilise Central Asia.

China would be nothing but stupid to trust Taliban. Already, its citizens are being murdered by the dozens in Pakistan by home grown terrorists. China, being the champion of human rights violations, isn't concerned with the implications of Taliban rule on the women and children there who have to live under Sharia law.

The problem faced by China is that the Taliban regime cannot be trusted. China will have to find a way to ensure that its investments into the country yield benefits and aren't gobbled up by Taliban. Another issue is that China has made heavy investments in Pakistan, which shares a large border with Afghanistan. If an altercation breaks out between Taliban forces and Pakistan, it could threaten Chinese investments in the country. Additionally, China is hoping to extend the CPEC project into Afghanistan.

China has many security interests in Pakistan. If China cooperates with Pakistan to support the Afghani Taliban and deal with terrorist groups, it would actually be killing two birds with one stone. China will put pressure on Pakistan to clamp down on extremists in their own country, and if Pakistan cooperates, it would not only benefit China’s development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, but also support the Afghan Taliban in promoting China’s strategic interest against India.

According to a report by CNBC, Chinese propaganda is already trying to bolster a narrative of "American Decline", promoting tragic images of America’s abandonment of Afghan partners to both international and domestic audiences to instil the idea that the United States is not an object of worship.

This is a covert psychological attack on the Taiwanese public to advance a narrative that the United States is unreliable and distant while they are isolated and alone. Another message that China is trying to put across is that it will not spill blood, intervene in other country’s civil wars or leave messes behind.

But the impact of Beijing's unsubtle efforts has been diminished, for it is glaringly obvious that they are trying to score points off a tragedy rather than instilling confidence or promoting humanitarian causes. Also, Taiwan is a close partner of Japan and Australia and is viewed as a bellwether of the credibility of American security commitments. Since Taiwan's presidency and legislature are still in the control of Democratic Progressive Party, the likelihood of the psychological pressure resulting in near-term policy shifts is low. America’s steady military posture in the Western Pacific is unlikely to be impacted by the events in Afghanistan but there is a need to provide authoritative, clear messages to Taiwan’s leaders by senior American officials to ensure peaceful resolution to differences in the Taiwan Strait that reflects the will of people.

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