“Taliban to ‘Actively Support’ Belt and Road Plan of ‘Trustworthy Friend’ China” — by Shi Jiangtao for SMCP.

Pledge from deputy head of Taliban office comes as a spokesman highlights Afghanistan’s strategic value to China in terms of regional security.
Chinese foreign ministry wouldn’t be drawn out on question of recognising the militant group, but said Beijing was watching the situation closely.

Afghanistan will continue to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Taliban have said, expressing hopes to rely on Beijing’s investment and support to rebuild the war-ravaged country while promising to protect Chinese interests there.

The pledge from Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy director of the Taliban’s office in Doha, Qatar, came as China aimed to consolidate relations with the Afghan regime led by the Islamic militant group, despite many uncertainties.

In a phone conversation with Chinese assistant foreign minister Wu Jianghao on Thursday, Hanafi said the Islamic group would “take effective measures” to protect Chinese institutions and personnel in Afghanis

“China has been a trustworthy friend of Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban is willing to continue to promote friendly relations between Afghanistan and China and will never allow any force to use Afghan territory to threaten China’s interests,” Hanafi said, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Hanafi also praised the belt and road scheme, Beijing’s top foreign policy and overseas investment strategy. “[It] is conducive to the development and prosperity of Afghanistan and the region. Afghanistan hopes to continue to actively support and participate in it.”

Afghanistan is a member of the multinational Chinese strategy, with the first official memorandum on their partnership signed in 2016.

For China, Afghanistan is strategically located and rich in natural resources. While Beijing has long hoped to expand the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan, it has made little progress over the years due to the volatile situation in the country and China’s fear of the spillover effect of Afghanistan’s instability.

According to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, Wu promised that China would maintain diplomatic relations with the new regime by keeping its embassy in Afghanistanopen, and said their “relations would beef up as compared to the past”.

Mujahid said China would also increase its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, especially in Covid-19 treatment, and highlighted the strategic importance of the Central Asian country. “Afghanistan can play an important role in the security and development of the region,” he said in a tweet.

In an interview with Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Thursday, Mujahid spoke at length about China’s possible role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US and Nato troops.

China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest [in] and rebuild our country,” he said.

The Taliban “care a lot about the belt and road project”, Mujahid said. “We own rich copper mines, which, thanks to the Chinese, will be modernised. Finally, China represents our ticket to the markets around the world.”

The Chinese statement made no mention of Wu’s remarks on the embassy and China’s offer for assistance. But foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin confirmed on Friday that the Chinese embassy was “operating normally” in the war-ravaged country.

Asked whether China would recognise the Taliban, Wang only said that China was watching the situation in Afghanistan closely as the militant group was about to announce a new government.

“[We] hope that Afghanistan will establish an open and inclusive political structure, a moderate policy, cut off from terrorist organisations, and get along with neighbouring countries. A new Afghan government is being formed,” he said.

“We noticed that the Taliban created good conditions for foreign investors and wanted to participate in the belt and road. We hope that the situation in Afghanistan will transition smoothly. This is the prerequisite for cooperation and the basis for enterprises to invest in Afghanistan.”

Reports on Friday said Mullah Baradar, Taliban co-founder and head of its political office, was poised to lead the new government in Kabul.

China has shown unusual enthusiasm in endorsing and calling for international support for the largely isolated Taliban, in a sign that Beijing is interested in filling the void left by the United States amid concerns about getting too involved in the Afghan quagmire.

In contrast, the US, the European Union and their allies have yet to accept the legitimacy of the Taliban and linked any moves on formal recognition with the group’s future actions.

Credit: Shi Jiangtao. Publication: South Morning China Post (SMCP). Published: September 3rd 2021. Source Link: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3147520/taliban-actively-support-belt-and-road-plan-trustworthy-friend

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