China announced on Wednesday that it would donate 200 million yuan (US$31 million) worth of aid, including food and coronavirus vaccines, to Afghanistan. The commitment came on the same day that Beijing said it was ready to maintain communication with Kabul after the Taliban took “a necessary step” by naming an interim government. Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the donation in a meeting with counterparts from Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Wang said China would work with countries in the region to help Afghanistan rebuild its economy and society, as well as fight terrorist groups and the illegal drug trade.
The Taliban on Tuesday announced an all-male, ethnic Pashtun-dominated cabinet featuring senior figures notorious for their hardline rule in the 1990s and responsible for attacks against US-led international forces over the past two decades. The militant group had promised to form an inclusive Afghanistan government – among the criteria that could gain the international recognition it needs to prevent an economic meltdown and food crisis.
Asked on Wednesday about China’s reaction to the Taliban’s announcement, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said it was “a necessary step” but called on the Taliban to listen to different views domestically and internationally.
“The Chinese side attaches great importance to the Afghan Taliban’s announcement of an interim government,” he said. “This is a necessary step in restoring domestic order and moving towards post-war reconstruction.” He said China was “willing to maintain communication with the new Afghan government”, and repeated Beijing’s call for the Taliban to cut ties with all terrorist groups, especially the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which China says is behind past attacks in its western region of Xinjiang. “We hope the new Afghan regime during the period of the interim government will listen to the opinions of all ethnic groups and factions in Afghanistan, and respond to the hopes of its people and the international community,” he said.
The interim government will be led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, one of the Taliban’s founders, who is on a United Nations sanctions list. The interior minister will be Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the militant Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list. The group said the appointments were temporary but did not specify how long they would last.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday that the US was “a long way off” recognising the Taliban. The US State Department on Tuesday expressed concerns over the make-up of what was presented as a caretaker cabinet, noting a lack of female leaders and the troubling track records of some of those appointed to top posts. It said the US would “judge the Taliban by its actions, not words”.
China was among the first major powers to establish contact with the Taliban after it swept through Afghanistan and unseated the government following last month’s withdrawal of US troops. The Chinese embassy in Kabul remains open, and its top envoy to the country has met senior Taliban officials. In the past week, Chinese assistant foreign minister Wu Jianghao has had a telephone call with Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy director of the Taliban’s office in Qatar. Taliban officials have described China as Afghanistan’s most important partner and pinned hopes on Chinese investment and support to rebuild the war-torn country.
But Beijing has yet to offer its formal recognition to the Taliban-led regime despite widespread speculation that it could step into the void left by the US in Afghanistan. China’s foreign-policy makers and observers have said that Beijing is likely to monitor developments cautiously and not rush to offer official endorsement. (SouthChinaMorningPost)