China’s newly appointed foreign minister, Qin Gang, has urged the Taliban to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals in Afghanistan.
Qin made the request in a phone call with his Taliban counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi on Saturday, just weeks after an attack on a Chinese-owned hotel in the capital Kabul.
In the call, Qin also reaffirmed Beijing’s support for the Taliban to establish what he called “a broad and inclusive political structure” in the war-torn neighbour.
“China attaches great importance to the safety of Chinese personnel, institutions and projects in Afghanistan,” Qin said, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement on Saturday night.
“We hope that the Afghan side will take strong measures to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel and institutions in Afghanistan.”
The statement said Muttaqi, the acting Afghan foreign minister, responded by saying that “no forces are allowed to use Afghanistan’s territory to engage in activities that undermine Afghanistan’s friendship with China or harm China’s interests”.
The government would fight “terrorism of all kinds” and take “strong measures” to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and organisations in Afghanistan, Muttaqi was quoted as saying.
China’s economic presence in Afghanistan has been growing – the Taliban government announced earlier this month that it has signed a 25-year contract with a Chinese company to extract oil from the northern Amu Darya basin, the first major oil extraction deal the Taliban has reached with a foreign company since taking power in 2021.
The USD 500 edible oil contract was signed on January 05, 2023. “The agreement, Taliban’s first major energy investment since it took power in 2021, represents China’s growing strategic interest in the Islamic Emirate,” wrote Washington-based researcher Kyle Sajoyan in the ‘19fortyfive’ publication.
‘Despite the growing number of terrorist attacks targeting Chinese nationals in the region, the PRC is showing no signs of stopping its global imperial project in the Muslim world,” he added.
But the call also comes after five Chinese nationals were severely wounded in an attack on a Chinese-owned hotel in the heart of Kabul in early December.
Taliban security forces killed at least three attackers who allegedly detonated bombs and opened fire in the hotel, a facility that was popular among visiting Chinese investors. Islamic State-Khorasan Provice, or Isis-K, a major rival to the Taliban, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Soon after the attack, the Chinese foreign ministry said it had “advised” Chinese citizens in Afghanistan to leave the country “as soon as possible”. It also called for a “thorough investigation” into the events.
The attack highlights the dilemma Beijing is facing between engaging the Taliban and its deep concerns over instability and radicalisation in Afghanistan that it fears could spill over into China’s neighbouring far western region of Xinjiang.
Like the rest of the world, China has not recognised the Taliban government since it regained control of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US’ abrupt military withdrawal.
Beijing has played a leading role in mediating Afghan issues by actively working with Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Russia, Pakistan, Iran as well as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is also part of several multilateral mechanisms, including one with the United States and Russia, on talks with the Taliban.
Qin’s call on Saturday is the latest in a series of discussions he has had with his foreign counterparts – including those from South Korea, Malaysia, Russia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan and Indonesia – since taking office in late December.