China makes a deal with the Taliban

Foreign Affairs

As the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Chinese Foreign Minister met a high-level delegation from the Taliban seeking reassurances of stability.

illustration of taliban and chinese officials standing together
Illustration by Derek Zheng.

Today in Beijing’s neighboring city of Tianjin, China’s Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 met with a delegation of Taliban officials, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders and most senior leaders of the Afghan organization.

Context: The U.S. is in the final stages of its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Wang said showed “the failure of America’s policies” there.

  • China and Afghanistan share a tiny sliver of a border high in the remote Wakhan Valley.
  • Wang met his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, last week, so it’s likely that Pakistan was in the loop on the Taliban visit.
  • Also today: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met in New Delhi and, per the AP, “sought to strengthen a regional front against Beijing’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and their cooperation in Afghanistan.”

Why now? And what do Beijing and the Taliban want from each other? The Associated Press said the meeting was a “highly conspicuous show of friendliness [that] had the appearance of a diplomatic mission at a time when the Taliban are craving legitimacy.”

  • Wang promised that China would not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs but also called on the Taliban to “deal resolutely” with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group China claims is “leading a push for independence in Xinjiang, but which many experts doubt even exists in any operational form,” per the AP.
  • ETIM may be read as shorthand for any type of Uyghur activism that could seek a base in Afghanistan.
  • Some reports said the Taliban assured Beijing that “the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for plotting against another country.”

Video: Watch Wang and his Taliban interlocutors posing for photos here.