Multiple mainstream American outlets claimed this week that the White House had evidence that the Chinese Communist Party offered unspecified “non-state actors” money to attack American troops in Afghanistan, the Afghan outlet Khaama Press noted on Thursday.
The report surfaced shortly after reports in Indian media indicated the arrest of ten Chinese citizens allegedly engaging in terrorist activity in Kabul.
Afghanistan borders China’s Xinjiang region, where the communist country has built over 1,000 concentration camps to house members of its largely Muslim ethnic Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz minorities. While repressing Muslims within its borders, China has attempted to mediate in the Afghan war and expand relations with Kabul, as Afghanistan is central to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), meant to connect Beijing to western Europe.
The Chinese government has repeatedly claimed that placing Uyghurs in concentration camps is necessary because of violent jihadist activity in Xinjiang. The United States recently removed an alleged Uyghur jihadist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), from its list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations due to lack of evidence of any such activity.
The ten Chinese arrested this week in Afghanistan were, some Afghan official theorized, building a fake ETIM cell in Kabul to embarrass the Uyghur population.
According to Khaama Press, the list of American outlets reporting that China may have been seeking clients to pay to attack American troops include Axis, the Washington Examiner and Politico. CNN also claimed to speak to an anonymous Trump administration official alleging that an intelligence report indeed claims evidence exists for the plot.
“In a report by [Politico], it is said that U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien briefed President Donald Trump on the unconfirmed allegations on December 17, 2020,” Khaama noted.
CNN’s report also claimed the intelligence surfaced in a December 17 briefing.
The reports did not clarify which non-state actors China had been courting – the Taliban is the most prominent jihadist group in Afghanistan and thus the primary suspect – or if Beijing had been successful. It is not clear if any Americans have been successfully targeted.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to these reports on Thursday, dismissing them as “fake news.”
“It’s nothing but fake news aimed to smear China, which only indicates how crazy some people have gone to taint China’s image and damage China-U.S. relations,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “We have never started a war with others, not to mention paying non-state actors to attack other countries. We also uphold the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, support Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process, and do not get involved in the internal conflicts in Afghanistan.”
The news follows reports, primarily in Indian media, that Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested ten Chinese people for alleged terrorist activity. The individuals named in the first report on the arrests, in the Hindustan Times, had Han Chinese – not Uyghur or other Turkic – names. Khaama Press also reported on the alleged arrests.
The ten individuals were allegedly in contact with the Haqqani Network, one of Afghanistan’s most violent jihadist organizations and an ally of the Taliban’s, “gathering information about al-Qaeda, Taliban and Uyghurs in Kunar and Badakhshan provinces.” A series of raids on December 10, which led to the arrests in question, revealed that the Chinese citizens were hoarding weapons and drugs, according to the Hindustan Times.
The report claimed the individuals in question were “spies” in contact with Beijing and that “one view within the Afghan security establishment is that the detainees were creating a fake East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) module in Afghanistan to entrap ETIM operatives in Afghanistan.”
The Afghan government has denied the reports.
China’s alleged involvement in Afghanistan comes after moderately significant progress in peace talks between the Taliban and the United States, which began in September. Reports indicate that, while the number of Taliban attacks on Afghan forces has increased, the Taliban have largely ceased targeting American troops, expecting a phase-out of the U.S. presence there. The Afghan War is the longest in American history, lasting about a decade.
A spokesman for the Taliban told reporters this week that the group is prepared to restart talks with the United States and Kabul in the new year. While the United States is seeking an exit from the country, on the condition that the Taliban not harbor jihadist groups that seek to hurt Americans, the Taliban has issued a list of demands that includes the imposition of strict sharia on the country and the release of hundreds of Taliban jihadists from prison.
Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, with sharia written partly into its legal system. The Taliban does not consider the Islamic Republic a legitimate entity and considers itself – the “Islamic Emirate” of Afghanistan – the only legal government of Afghanistan.
Prior to the return to peace talks in September, the Chinese government had attempted to carve a role for itself in culminating the Afghan war. A delegation of Taliban jihadists traveled to Beijing in June 2019 to discuss ”
Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process, counter-terrorism and other issues of mutual interest,” according to then-Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
“Both sides agree to stay in communication and cooperation for the political settlement of the Afghan issue and counter-terrorism,” Lu said at the time. “For the early realization of peace, reconciliation, stability, and development in Afghanistan, China will continue to conduct talks and coordination with relevant parties through various means.”