China is urging closer security and economic cooperation with Afghanistan in an apparent effort to bolster its influence in the region as the U.S. and its allies prepare to withdraw their forces from the country.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported that foreign ministers from China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan met via video conference on Thursday and agreed that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be carried out in a responsible and orderly manner to prevent the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan and the return of “terrorist forces.”
It quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as saying the three countries “needed to to strengthen communication and cooperation” for the sake of Afghanistan’s interests and those of neighboring countries.
“The security and stability of Afghanistan and the region are facing new challenges, with foreign troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan accelerated, the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan impacted, and armed conflicts and terrorist activities becoming more frequent,” Wang was quoted as saying.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the three sides arrived at an eight-point consensus, which included agreements to push forward the peace process and “welcome the Taliban back to the political mainstream”; strengthen political trust and relations, with China playing “a positive role in improving and developing relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan”; deepen Belt and Road cooperation and expand economic and trade ties; and strengthen counterterrorism efforts, specifically citing the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, among other items.
China has long resented the presence of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, but is equally wary of the country becoming a haven for insurgents that could threaten security in its Xinjiang region, which shares a narrow border with Afghanistan. In recent years, China has increased its engagement not only with Afghanistan and Pakistan but in Central Asia, particularly Tajikistan, with security issues at the forefront. The Chinese government has justified its crackdown on Turkic ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including the Uyghurs, by pointing to the need to prevent terrorism in the region.
Xinhua said Wang, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi “stressed the need to … forbid any terrorist organizations or individuals from using their territories to engage in criminal activities against other countries.”
China has sought to invest in Afghan resources, particularly copper, but constant fighting between the government, the Taliban, and other groups has largely held back such projects. China has also sought to boost already close ties with Pakistan through its Belt and Road Initiative, but the country’s economic weakness and security problems have blunted the success of that drive.
The trilateral meeting was the fourth of its kind and the Chinese stressed that they aim to both deepen the dialogue and meet face-to-face “as soon as possible.”
The United States is preparing to wrap up its longest war by withdrawing the last of its 2,500-3,500 troops along with 7,000 allied NATO forces by September 11 at the latest, generating fears of increased chaos in a country already deeply insecure. Washington says it will continue to support the Afghan government and the peace process and will be equipped to handle counterterrorism threats arising in Afghanistan from “over the horizon.”