After a meeting with Chinese officials on Tuesday, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid stated that the group "desires" to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The militant group had already called China one of their "staunchest allies", while reports claimed that the Taliban has invited China, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Qatar to attend the upcoming government formation ceremony in Afghanistan. Illuminating, by itself. What is even more revelatory, however, is the continuing Chinese silence on the subject of Taliban, or, more specifically, recognition for the regime. China hasn't exactly welcomed Taliban's friendly embraces; it has remained cool and distant to date.
The crux of China's position on Afghanistan: They claim to support Afghanistan forming an open, inclusive, broadly-based government upholding moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies and live in good terms with the neighbouring countries. The country has stated that it is watching Taliban actions in Panjshir very carefully.
What does China need from Taliban?
China is already coordinating its evolving policy on Afghanistan with allies Pakistan and Russia. Beijing, which has kept its embassy open in Kabul along with Pakistan and Russia, is awaiting the formation of a government by the Taliban to decide on recognising it amidst firm indications by the US, the UK and other western countries that they will not be in a hurry to endorse the new government in Kabul.
On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a telephonic conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during which he said that new government in Afghanistan should be open and inclusive, make a clean break with terrorist organisations, and establish and develop good relations with other countries, especially neighbouring countries.
Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, China has been vocal in expressing its concern over the Uygur militants of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighting for the independence of Xinjiang, regrouping in Afghanistan under the rule of the Afghan militant group as the volatile province shares a narrow border with the war-ravaged country.
Beijing has already extracted a firm commitment from a Taliban delegation headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar during a visit to China in July that they will not permit the ETIM to operate from its soil.
What is China looking for in Afghanistan?
China is deeply concerned that the very withdrawal could bring risk and instability to that backyard Central Asia, and possibly even spill over their narrow, remote border into China itself and the heavily Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang. The Taliban's takeover could certainly present political and economic opportunities for China, including developing Afghanistan's vast mineral riches, and Beijing has said it is ready to help rebuild the impoverished nation. But stability will be required to reap most of those benefits, and the immediate result of the American withdrawal has been more instability, not less.
China has invested heavily in Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, in hopes of extending its Belt and Road Initiative to broaden China's overseas reach by improving trade routes, but Afghanistan appears far from ready to serve as a link in that chain. China's extensive economic interests in Pakistan and Central Asia could clearly be impacted by any terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan. At the same time, China is loath to get involved with any boots on the ground presence, as it does not want to repeat the mistakes of the US or be distracted from more pressing issues like Taiwan.