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A Reluctant Embrace: China’s New Relationship with the Taliban

As long as the civil war persists, Beijing will continue to pursue a diplomatic balancing act between Kabul and the Taliban in order to best protect its interests
By Yun Sun

This article was originally published in War on the Rocks.

As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and leaves a security vacuum there, is China moving in by cozying up to the Taliban? On July 28, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a high-profile official meeting with a delegation of nine Afghan Taliban representatives, including the group’s co-founder and deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. This was not the first visit by Taliban members to China, but the meeting was unprecedented in its publicity, the seniority of the Chinese attendees, and the political messages conveyed. Most notably, Wang used the meeting to publicly recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political force in Afghanistan, a step that has major significance for the country’s future development.

Even so, close examination of the meeting’s details and the Chinese government’s record of engagement with the Taliban reveals that the future path of the relationship is far from certain. Not only is the endgame of the armed conflict in Afghanistan undetermined. There are also questions about how moderate the Taliban will ever be, which has a tremendous impact on Chinese officials’ perception of, and policy toward, the organization. Additionally, despite the narrative that Afghanistan could play an important role in the Belt and Road Initiative as well as in regional economic integration, economics is not yet an incentive for China to lunge into the war-plagued country. China has been burned badly in its previous investments in Afghanistan and will tread carefully in the future. In an effort to further its political and economic interests, the Chinese government has reluctantly embraced the Taliban, but it has also hedged by continuing to engage diplomatically with the Afghan government.

Read the full article in War on the Rocks here.

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