China Wants to Serve as ‘Mediator’ in Afghanistan Conflict

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses a joint press conference with the German foreign minister after talks on February 13, 2020 at the German Foreign Ministry's Villa Borsig in North Berlin. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP) (Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

China wants to serve as “a mediator, or a ‘guarantor of security'” on the Afghanistan issue, China’s state-run Global Times reported on Sunday, in response to the Taliban’s growing dominance of most of the country.

“China’s consistent position on the Afghan issue is to respect Afghanistan’s historical and current conditions, and to help but not interfere, which is also what separates China from the US and makes China a mediator, or a ‘guarantor of security’ in the region,” Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on July 11.

The Global Times sought Yang’s analysis of the Afghan security threat to Central Asia for a report on Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to the region to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) from July 12-16. The SCO is a Chinese- and Russian-led economic and security bloc uniting Central and South Asia. Observers consider the SCO an Eastern counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In addition to China and Russia, the SCO counts Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and India as member states.

“[Chinese] Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and attend the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) … from July 12 to 16,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin announced at a regular press briefing in Beijing on July 9.

“The developments of the situation in Afghanistan is at a critical juncture,” Wang Wenbin said.

“As close neighbors of Afghanistan, the SCO member states can play a positive role in promoting the peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process in Afghanistan. Better connectivity is the common aspiration of countries in Central and South Asia and is also an important part of the BRI cooperation,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman added, referring to Beijing’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“Against this background, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit is an important diplomatic mission aimed at consolidating traditional friendship and cooperation with Central Asian countries, advancing the development of the SCO, promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, and strengthening joint efforts to build the BRI and enhance connectivity,” Wang Wenbin said.

“The US, in disregard of its responsibilities and obligations, hastily withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving a mess and turmoil to the Afghan people and regional countries,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said elsewhere at Friday’s press briefing.

Wang Wenbin referred to the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. and NATO-allied troops from Afghanistan, scheduled to finish by September. The U.S. has led the exit following a 20-year joint military operation in Afghanistan that launched in the fall of 2001 with the ouster of the Taliban terror group from the country’s government. The Taliban, according to its own estimates, has already reclaimed roughly 85 percent of Afghan territory in the wake of the Western troop departures.

“As a friendly close neighbor of Afghanistan, China always supports the Afghan people in safeguarding their national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and taking national destiny into their own hands,” Wang Wenbin said on July 9.

“China always follows the ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led’ principle and strives to promote the political settlement of the Afghan issue,” he said. “We stand ready to work together with the international community and regional countries to advance the peace and reconciliation process and help Afghanistan realize peace and stability at an early date.”

Tajikistan’s government on July 7 urged Russia to uphold its commitment to securing the Tajik-Afghan border as promised in a 2013 agreement through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led military alliance of former Soviet states.

“Tajikistan, as the country with the longest border with Afghanistan, is taking all possible measures to maintain the situation, to meet the threats and challenges coming from that country,” Hasan Sultanov, the Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the CSTO, said at a CSTO Permanent Council meeting last week.

“However, given the situation in the region, as well as the fact that certain parts of the border with Afghanistan are in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, it becomes difficult to overcome this problem alone,” he said.

As the Taliban re-conquers large swathes of Afghanistan, Afghan civilians and government soldiers are reportedly fleeing the country for Tajikistan.

“Tajik authorities say that two-thirds of the 1,357-kilometer border with Afghanistan is under Taliban control and they are preparing for an influx of refugees to enter the country. They say they are already providing Afghan refugees with food and shelter,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on July 7.

The Tajik-Afghan border situation requires “an adequate response by the CSTO, including the adoption of measures for strengthening the potential to protect the southern borders,” Sultanov said on July 7.

“In this context, the implementation of 2013, September decision of the Collective Security Council on the need to ‘Provide Assistance to the Republic of Tajikistan in strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border’ remains relevant [sic],” he said.

“Therefore, we would like to call on the member states of the organization to contribute to the full implementation of this document,” Tajikstan’s CSTO representative concluded.

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