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China sees risks in invading Afghanistan after the US withdrawal

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On Tuesday, China’s State Department quoted representations of a new “Saigon moment” in the US media. History repeats itself. “

Still, after being largely onlookers in its western neighbor for two decades of a strong US presence, China’s leadership seems cautious about falling into a volatile political situation in which it has little experience, experts say.

Beijing’s greatest concern is the potential impact of Taliban rule, with its history of Islamic extremism, in China, where authorities have put in place strict border controls and draconian measures to control the Muslim Uyghur minority in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

“China would really prefer not to deal with any of this,” said Andrew Small, a senior fellow in Chinese foreign affairs at the German Marshall Fund, a Washington-based think tank, “is wary of getting involved,” said Mr. Small .

Despite this, China has spent much of its diplomatic activity in recent weeks sending representatives to meetings with the US, Russia, Pakistan and other countries in Qatar, and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for talks with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the east of China Tianjin City.

On Monday, China sent its newly appointed Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong, to Tehran to meet with outgoing Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, while Wang met with US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei. Lavrov telephoned.

The meetings, experts say, do not seem to show Beijing that it is taking a leading role in managing the crisis in Afghanistan, although Beijing appears to be laying the groundwork for an approach that will diverge from Washington’s.

Beijing sees potential advantages in allying itself with the Taliban and could officially recognize a Taliban-led government that would ultimately be able to benefit from a possible reconstruction of Afghanistan or more influence in the region.

“It appears that they are trying to distance themselves from the American initiative,” said Barnett R. Rubin, a former State Department official and Afghanistan scholar at New York University. Beijing will prefer to coordinate its relations with other countries in the region rather than following the US bilateral approach, he said.

Cooperation between China and the US on Afghanistan issues is not impossible. The Biden administration has repeatedly highlighted Afghanistan, along with climate change, as one of the few issues on which the two countries have common interests and may be able to work together.

Nonetheless, the State Department’s description of Messrs Blinken and Wang’s Monday talks was succinct, while China’s more detailed version offered few signals of cooperation, instead focusing on Washington’s missteps in Afghanistan and calling on the US to ensure a so-called “soft landing”. in the country that would prevent a new civil war or a humanitarian catastrophe.

Unlike the US, which has a number of concerns, including the Taliban’s treatment of women and Afghans consistent with the former government, as well as the group’s potential support for al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, Beijing has a narrow focus on one’s own safety signals interests.

Chinese authorities are concerned about the Taliban’s historical ties to Uyghur militants, particularly the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a largely disbanded Uyghur separatist group that Beijing blames in part for the ethnic tensions in Xinjiang.

Geng Shuang, China’s envoy to the United Nations, said at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday that ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists is a top priority for China and urged the Taliban to keep their pledges to it traveled to Beijing to prevent international terrorists from settling in Afghanistan.

Although there is little evidence that Uyghurs trained abroad and returned to China to carry out terrorist attacks, the Chinese authorities have cited the existence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement to justify their suppression of ethnic Uyghurs. In recent years, the Xinjiang government has set up detention centers where more than a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are held.

The US put the East Turkestan Islamic Movement on a list in 2002 banning members of groups from entering or staying in the US, and the following year Pakistan said it had killed the group’s leader in a drone attack. Last year Washington removed the group, arguing that there had been no credible evidence of their existence for more than a decade – a move Beijing protested.

When it comes to possible cooperation with the US, Beijing will want to know whether Washington is a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism, including its stance on the East Turkestan’s Islamic Movement, said NYU’s Mr Rubin. But with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, China could of course work more closely with regional actors to secure common security interests.

“You will want to coordinate your policy. China, Russia and Iran, and to some extent Pakistan, probably feel that together they can better amplify their impact, ”said Rubin.

In contrast to the US and other Western embassies, which have rushed to evacuate personnel, the four countries have left their embassies open, signaling their intention to keep lines of communication with the Taliban open. The Chinese embassy in Kabul said on Sunday that it had asked various factions in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens.

In the days since the Taliban captured Kabul on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has addressed the situation dispassionately, describing the collapse of the Afghan government as a “major change” for the country and citing the Taliban’s pledges to open and inclusive “Islamic government.

On Tuesday, China’s State Department criticized the US’s role in Afghanistan as destructive, noting that President Biden recently argued that the US mission in the country was not a nation building. However, Ms. Hua gave no indication that Beijing was eager to play such a role.

China’s Communist Party-controlled tabloid Global Times on Monday denied speculation that China was trying to fill the power vacuum by sending its own troops. “The best China can do is evacuate Chinese nationals when a massive humanitarian crisis occurs or help rebuild and develop in the post-war era,” it said.

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