The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation sat down with Ash Center Director Tony Saich, Daewoo Professor of International Affairs, to discuss China’s reaction to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and how recent events may impact the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ash: What is the view in Beijing of the abrupt collapse of Afghanistan’s government following the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
Saich: Chinese state media has been using the U.S. withdrawal to score propaganda points. It has highlighted the chaotic scenes that followed the initial withdrawal and this fits with the general narrative that the U.S. is in decline and is no longer a major global force.
Second, they have used this to stress that the U.S. is not a reliable ally and thus cannot be counted on. This has included indicating to Taiwan that there is no guarantee that the U.S. would provide support to the island in the future. Taiwan is on its own in the face of Beijing’s pressure.
However, these public statements mark concerns and some commentators have suggested a more nuanced view. The primary interest for China in Afghanistan is ensuring stability so that no unrest would spill over into the wider region and China in particular. In this sense, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been a positive for China as it has played the security role at no cost to China. Now, China will have to develop its own relationships with the Taliban. Thus, China’s Foreign Minister met with a Taliban delegation headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (July 28) in Tianjin to discuss relations.
Ash: How does the Taliban’s capture of Kabul impact China’s interests in the region?
Saich: Meeting in Tianjin, Wang Yi stressed China’s desire to have a stable neighbor and to guarantee that Beijing would play an active role in helping the country rebuild. Wang stressed the principle of non-interference to contrast with the actions of the USA and NATO. For his part, Baradar welcomed China’s economic engagement. This could be beneficial for China, given the richness of rare earth and other resources that Afghanistan possesses. With the U.S. blocking access to funds and the IMF doing the same, Afghanistan will be reliant on countries such as China, Iran, and Russia to help. As noted, with the U.S. presence gone, China will have to step up its monitoring of security threats in the region, but this is very unlikely to include any physical presence of Chinese forces.