China’s top diplomat has urged the international community to engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban government and “guide it actively”, in a phone call with US secretary of state Antony Blinken, according to Beijing’s foreign ministry.
Wang Yi, Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, also said that Washington should work with the international community to help the new regime run governmental functions normally, according to a Chinese statement. He added that the US’s “hasty withdrawal” could allow terrorist groups to “regroup and come back stronger”.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a short statement that Blinken and Wang spoke about “the importance of the international community holding the Taliban accountable for the public commitments they have made regarding the safe passage and freedom to travel for Afghans and foreign nationals”.
The two foreign ministers also spoke of the bilateral relationship. Wang said China would consider how to engage with the US “based on its attitude towards China”. But he also said “Dialogue is better than confrontation, and cooperation is better than conflict.”
Analysts said the situation on the ground in Afghanistan was likely to deteriorate further as the deadline for US withdrawal looms on 31 August. On Monday, the US announced that its anti-missile system had intercepted as many as five rockets fired early in the morning towards the airport in Kabul.
As Afghanistan’s neighbour, China has been paying close attention. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan two weeks ago, Chinese analysts have been debating to what extent the security vacuum left by the US would pose a potential threat – or an opportunity – to China, and how the issue of Afghanistan could play a role in the US-China bilateral relationship.
“China does think the US will have to count on it more in Afghanistan in [the] future, and they’re [also] attempting to couple it with climate change, which they know is also seen on the US side as an area where they rely on Chinese cooperation,” said Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the Asia programme of the German Marshall Fund, a thinktank.
But Small said it was also clear from the call between the two top diplomats on Sunday that China needed the US in various ways on Afghanistan too. For example, Wang has a whole list of “asks”, which the Chinese statement referred to as “the two lists and three basic demands”. These included revoking sanctions on communist officials and lifting student visa bans.
“The two sides need to keep channels open and maintain at least some minimal levels of cooperation but that’s very much in Beijing’s interest, too,” Small said.
It is the second time since the Taliban’s takeover that the two diplomats had spoken. On 16 August, Wang told Blinken in a call that the hasty pullout of US troops from Afghanistan had a serious negative impact, but pledged to work with Washington to promote stability in the country.
But Wang said Washington could not expect China’s cooperation if it was also trying to “contain and suppress China and harm China’s legitimate rights and interests,” Chinese state media reported at the time of the earlier call.
The recent calls on Afghanistan came as relations between Beijing and Washington are at their lowest point in decades and just after the release of a US intelligence assessment into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing said Washington had wrongly claimed that it was hindering the investigation and dismissed the report as “not scientifically credible”.
“If the US side also hopes to bring bilateral relations back on the right track, it should stop blindly smearing and attacking China, and stop undermining China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Wang said.
Additional reporting by Reuters