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In this news article, it is said that China is willing to develop positive relations with the Taliban.

"China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop... friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan," AFP quoted foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying as saying

But ...why? What is there to gain for China by association with a militant coup?

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  • I doubt it was a coup. It seemed more like a staged transfer of power. Aug 20 at 7:20
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    "Coup" is an incorrect term for the Taliban's takeover. They fought a guerrilla war until they were ready to invade provincial capitals. Coups are staged either by elements within the reigning power structure (army units, etc.) or smaller groups attempting to seize a few critical cities (Hitler, Lenin). I'd suggest amending the post to "militant group" or something for the sake of accuracy. The distinction is not trivial. Aug 20 at 14:24

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One reason is that China is investing a significant amount in trying to build a land corridor through Pakistan to access ports in the Indian ocean as part of their belt and road initiative.

China is heavily dependent on trade, and the majority of that trade goes by sea. One of China's geopolitical imperatives is to be able to secure those trade routes. One of their problems is that the first island chain represents a significant chokepoint, particularly if a hostile power (specifically the US) combines area denial land-based anti-ship missiles on islands and carrier groups to cover the sea lanes - in such a case, China's shipping (and navy) could be bottled up inside the first island chain.

As such, China has an interest in developing other trading routes, such as overland through western China and Pakistan to use Pakistan's ports. These would also help serve as supply routes for the Chinese navy for operations in the Indian Ocean, which would increase China's ability to operate its navy further from its coast with a degree of security.

As such China has a lot of workers and security personnel in Pakistan building the infrastructure for this (and unrelated infrastructure projects as part of the deal to persuade Pakistan to work with them on this) and has faced numerous attacks, including suicide bombings, in northern Pakistan, which have killed Chinese workers.

China doesn't want to have to deal with the effects of an ongoing insurgency interfering with their land corridor, and they don't want the Afghan Taliban agitating trouble in China's Muslim-dominated Xinjian province adjacent to the Afghan border. If China becomes one of the few countries to officially recognise the Taliban, and give them some small degree of shelter via their veto at the UN, then the logic is that the Taliban government will find it in their own interests to curtail these threats to Chinese interests, which will give China better security in its west more cheaply (and reliably) than they could achieve through military or security action alone.

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    Terminology note: "Pakistan Taliban" = TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan).
    – Fizz
    Aug 17 at 11:32
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    @PeterMortensen I think it ought to work as written, which would mean "in China's west". Using West as a region inside China is easily comprehensible, at the very least. ELL or ELU, perhaps, would know more definitely? ;)
    – user45266
    Aug 18 at 8:22
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    If the US was employing missile deterrents to dissuade trade ships chartered from China (i.e. argentinian, brazilian, dutch, panamanian boats), that would be on the doorstep of WW3 and complete sanctions in both directions, I don't agree in that sense, although the other reasons are strongly argued. Aug 18 at 17:05
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    TL;DR: China wants the area stable, it doesn't much care who's in charge or how they treat their citizens.
    – Shadur
    Aug 19 at 9:36
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    It may not be happening right at the moment, @DeltaEnfieldWaid, but I can imagine China might want to prepare for the worst-case scenario, especially considering current relations & world conditions. They may be afraid that it's only a matter of time, they may wish to not take any chances in the case of future wild-card U.S. presidents, or may wish to have alternatives ready in case they ever choose to make the first move themself. It's a standard practice, plan for invasions by anyone and everyone so you can identify and eliminate potential weak points before they can be used against you. Aug 20 at 0:49
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Fact is, the new Taliban government is there to stay. Both the Russians and NATO took their shots at trying to keep Afghanistan under control. Both gave up eventually. Now the Chinese want to have their turn. But the Chinese tool of choice for exerting control over foreign countries isn't the gun, it's the shipping container.

The new state of Afghanistan fits very well into the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. A global infrastructure initiative to facilitate trade with China all around the Afro-Eurasian half of the world.

Accepting the new Afghan government early gives China the opportunity to establish themselves as a trade partner with Afghanistan which gives them both business opportunities and political influence in the region.

Regarding ideological differences between the fundamentalist Taliban and the state-capitalist CCP: The Chinese government usually does not care about those too much. The Chinese philosophy is that countries should not get involved in each others internal affairs. So when the Chinese start to take on diplomatic relationships with the Taliban, then it likely sounds something like this:

"So you want to rule your country according to the divine laws passed down by the Prophet Muhammad? Does that Muhammad guy say anything against foreigners owning and operating critical trade infrastructure and key industries in your country? No? Great, let's talk business!"

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    After the west has left, the money follows. I think China is more interested in its own stability.
    – r13
    Aug 17 at 15:45
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Well, it's a bit complicated. From I read in several articles and I'm summarizing here:

  • China (like Pakistan too) hope that the Afghan Taliban will keep their promises and "rein in" TTP and other militant groups whose fighters are "embedded" with the Afghan Taliban. Allegedly, there are some 10,000 foreign fighters in Afghanistan, affiliated with the Taliban. About two-thirds of these are Pakistani, most of the rest comes from Islamist movements in other neighboring countries (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan), including (allegedly) some 500 from Xinjiang. Those guys aren't the main worry of China actually because TTP itself has targeted Chinese in Pakistan, including China's ambassador (to Pakistan). (Note: the Taliban officially deny that are any foreign fighters whatsoever among or with them. They likewise officially deny any links whatsoever with TTP. Pakistani intelligence/army/ministers repeatedly said otherwise...)

  • China has some economic interests in Afghanistan too, like copper mines and it's supposedly after rare earth deposits as well. It also wants to build highways there, supposedly one linking Pakistan and Afghanistan. (It's a bit unclear to me if this is a vanity project or the existing highways really don't satisfy Chinese needs.) A more modest Chinese road project actually went ahead even during the US presence.

In case it needs reminding: China is also pretty invested in Pakistan. And it has (even) been willing to risk putting in money in the tribal regions that Westerners avoid (as the stronghold of TTP etc.) To some extent, this is by geographical necessity as they want to link Xinjiang to the Pakistani ports. China and Pakistan taking widely different positions on the matter of the Taliban would cause some friction between them, even in the absence of more direct Chinese concerns regarding the Taliban and Afghanistan.

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    The words you chose as hyperlinks seriously weird me out. Aug 17 at 18:12
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    I think that access to rare earth metals is very high on China's shopping list in Afghanistan. They have already out-bid western interests for those metals with the previous government, now they are just protecting their existing investments.
    – jwdonahue
    Aug 19 at 21:13
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But ...why? What is there to gain for China by association with a militant coup?

You quoted the very reply to your question; you just need to read it outside the scope of the US' perception of things.

China isn't associating with a "militant coup". A wide resistance movement has driven a foreign occupier out of the country, and a locally-self-determined government will now be formed. (Note I didn't say a democratically-elected government, nor a government you might personally approve of.) China says it respects this.

Also, China said it is interested in friendly cooperation, not ideological alignment.

Now, of course, China's interests have to do with its smoldering conflict with the US, and how US presence in Afghanistan can be considered part of an encirclement of China by US and US-allied forces. There are also the trade interests mentioned in other answers, which are at the same time also "anti-encirclement" measures. But that doesn't detract from the fact that it's a ho-hum statement in itself. It's the opposite statement that would have been surprising.


By the way - the resistance to the US is not mostly by the Taliban per se. They have wide support in this initiative from most of Afghan society, which does not necessarily subscribe to their particular ideology. See this detailed discussion for more insight regarding how this looks from the Afghan side.

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    What makes them not a militant coup? They were a militant coup in 1996 when they seized power, and nothing has changed. They had a self-determined government in place that respected women's rights and was subject to the will of the people. That is no longer the case. Also a point of confusion, what do you mean a wide resistance movement drove out a foreign occupier? America pulling out had nothing to do with being driven out. They opted to, because Americans have exhausted a lot of money and time helping Afghanistan. If they can't defend themselves against the Taliban now, that's on them. Aug 17 at 23:56
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    @KeithMcClary: Coup d'é·tat: "A sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force." The resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan is a 20-year campaign across the entire country. About 1996 - I don't know about the quality of the pre-Taliban government; and TBH I loath the Taliban as a political and religious movement, but that's beside the point. Also, the US was never "helping" Afghanistan; it invaded and occupied to help itself.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 18 at 5:19
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    @Obie2.0: Elections held by an occupying power are not valid, period. Or rather I should say, the elected share the illegitimacy of the occupation. The number of participants is immaterial. The to-be-formed government put itself into power by the actions of Afghans; the elected puppet government was put in power by US bayonets.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 18 at 10:51
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    That is a bit of a curious way of looking at things. It seems that according to your perspective, regardless of the number of Afghans who voted for Karzai or Ghani, their government would be completely illegitimate; but, regardless of how few Afghans have a say in the Taliban's government, their government would be legitimate.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 18 at 16:54
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    @einpokulum - Uh, I am only going to call it the Taliban's government if other factions do not play an important role in governance, which is currently the case. That is why I asked whether they intended to hold elections. If a non-Taliban party controls the government, even playing within the Taliban's rules (e.g., a Sharia constitution or whatnot), it will not be the Taliban's government, in direct analogy to the situation of the governments since the US invasion.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 18 at 18:00
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One point that I strangely have not seen mentioned here yet:

China highly values the principle of non-interference in internal matters. Quite obviously, it is in China's interest to not have interference from outside on matters it considers internal. It allows China (the PRC) to do within its borders as it desires, restricted only by its own principles. Matters that China sees as internal but foreign, especially western governments frequently point out in diplomatic interactions as matters that should be addressed and changed include but are not limited to:

  • the guarantee of basic human rights including Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association, and related
  • the situation of the Uighurs
  • the situation in Tibet
  • Cross-strait relations
  • everything related to Hong Kong (and Macao, although that does not make international news as regularly)

Quite obviously, China would prefer that these issues are not brought up and one could instead 'just talk business'. On the other hand, those western countries who have subscribed to upholding basic human rights as much as possible across the entire world consider these matters as needing to be addressed and potential inhibitors for cooperation. These western countries in general apply the same principle to other nations although enforcement is not uniform.

As China is intent on non-interference in its own internal matters, it only makes sense for it to do its best not to interfere in other states' internal matters. Viewed from this angle, there has been a revolution in Afghanistan, the old government has toppled, a new one is in its place and the new one is here to stay given the immediate history. Thus, it is only natural for China to accept these developments as matters of fact and to work together with the new Afghan government.

This answer should be understood as one additional point alongside the many good points already raised. I do not claim that this reason be the sole reason – or even the most significant one.

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What is there to gain for China by association with a militant coup?

Trade and investment. China either deals with the Taliban if they become the sole government of Afghanistan, as seems likely, or they abandon a market that they've invested a lot of money in developing. China has no other viable choices.

Also, China doesn't want the Taliban to extend its efforts to militarizing China's Islamic minorities, and presumably thinks it has a better shot at preventing that as a neutral trade partner than it does if the Taliban becomes a sworn and declared enemy of the People's Republic of China.

The fact that China is putting a good face on the situation doesn't mean that China is actually happy with it.

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China isn't so much interested in the Taliban as it is in road (and potential for rail) networks through central Asia. Routing like China-Tajikistan-Uzbekistan-Russia-Ukraine... China wants road and rail connections to Iran, and a route through Afghanistan branching from this existing network would be ideal. This also gives them an option to build an oil pipeline from Iran to China, obviating the need for tanker ships to go through waters potentially hostile to China (India, Indonesia, and Malaysia in particular don't especially like China).

It's the same reason the US/EU and Russia are clashing in Syria. That too is all about routing of oil pipelines through the region.

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China thinks the US is backing Uygur terrorists operating in Afghanistan.

The United States, as a matter of fact, has also colluded with terrorist and separatist forces including the World Uygur Congress (WUC).
In recent years, anti-China forces in the United States have been acting as hidden sponsors of the terrorist forces of "East Turkistan." The U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has increased its donation to the "East Turkistan" organizations, such as the WUC,
Xinhua

China may may prefer to discuss this with an independent Afghanistan.

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+250

Note: all quotes in this answer are taken from this website, and according to Wikipedia they’re the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for China.

Political Influence and an UN seat.

The Taliban are likely to take over most, if not all of Afghanistan soon, and since they are recognized by most major powers, it is not possible for them to get a seat on the UN general assembly. If the Afghanistan government are friendly to China, this could give China more political influence.

Not losing people

In addition, China currently has people in Afghanistan, and the article says

The Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan is still operating normally. The Chinese Ambassador and embassy staff are fulfilling their duties.

And

For those few people who chose to stay, the embassy is in close contact with them.

This shows that China still has citizens in in Afghanistan, and losing those citizens would likely be detrimental, because at least some of them are likely valuable to the Chinese government.

Less attacks on China

Hua Chunying chairs in the article that

The Afghan Taliban said on multiple occasions that it hopes to grow sound relations with China and will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China. We welcome those statements.

If there are people attacking China, this deal could possibly reduce them. In addition, this means that the Taliban might not allow any forces blocking Chinese trade into Afghanistan.

Showing China is better than other countries

Russia fought in Afghanistan, and America fought in Afghanistan. Those countries are both global powers, and they both failed. If China can make diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, that could be considered a success. This would show that China is more powerful than Russia and the US, which could raise morale and political influence.

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Afghanistan is rich in deposits of iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium. Perhaps the most significant of those is lithium - for battery technolgy.

This site appears to know what it is talking about on the subject.

The country's mineral wealth has been estimated at more than a trillion dollars.

My guess is that this is China's pre-eminent interest in supporting any political body which is capable of establishing a stable long-term government of the country. And the most likely one at this point would appear to be the Taliban.

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    Could you please add citations for “Afghanistan is rich in deposits of iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium” and “The country's mineral wealth has been estimated at more than a trillion dollars.”? Sep 27 at 16:40
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica theconversation.com/…
    – WS2
    Sep 27 at 18:58
  • thank you for the link (+1) Sep 27 at 21:00
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I am very far from an expert in the field but there might be a very primitive explanation too.

Both China and Russia are very much interested in any kind of allies opposed to NATO.

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China can secure weapons sales, security equipment sales, government supply contracts, mining and infrastructure contracts, agricultural equipment, citizen commodities, banking, in a similar and smaller version of US-Saudi partnerships.

Strong trade ties can promote strong cultural ties.

China is currently a major ally of Pakistan, and will have some kind of joint strategy with Imran Khan to promote peace in western Pakistan, which is strongly influenced by the Taliban.

Chinese mines within Afghanistan and close to Iran and Pakistan can ship material and be supplies through their borders, Beijing and Tehran have a 25 year agreement of partnership.

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  • Meh, Afghanistan is horribly poor compared to Saudi Arabia, so Taliban ability to repay China in pure economic terms is rather doubtful as an incentive. A comparison with what China did in Laos would be more appropriate.
    – Fizz
    Oct 1 at 5:27

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