WASHINGTON, DC — China could potentially assist the United States in fighting jihadists in Afghanistan, home to Uighur jihadi training camps linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, a top Pentagon official told a Senate panel.
His comments came as the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) announced that they had expanded airstrikes against the Taliban to the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which borders China and Tajikistan.
There is the possibility that China on the counterterrorism front could be a [U.S.] partner. They certainly have their own concerns about terrorism within China and the potential for linkages with terrorist groups operating elsewhere and for that to seep into China. Historically, we have run into some difficulties with what they define as a terrorist, particularly inside China and the way we look at things.There’s an important difference there, but they do have an interest in stability in Afghanistan.
In our discussions with China, it is an agenda item how we promote our cooperation and how we can ensure that they are a constructive participant in the process that’s underway in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon official’s comments came in response to Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) asking whether or not China could be a “viable constructive counterterrorism partner” for the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
Officials in Afghanistan recently revealed that Beijing is holding discussions with Kabul over establishing a military base near China’s border with Afghanistan.
The autonomous Xinjiang region shares an international boundary with Afghanistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, an area claimed by Beijing, Islamabad, and New Delhi.
China’s oppressed Muslim Uighur minority makes up the largest segment of the population in Xinjiang.
Pakistan considers China one of its top allies.
During a separate hearing on Tuesday, held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, experts warned that continued U.S. pressure on Pakistan to stop harboring terrorists could push Islamabad closer to Beijing.
Jeff Smith, an expert at the Heritage Foundation, told lawmakers:
Any further deterioration in U.S.–Pakistan relations is likely to incentivize Pakistan to draw even closer to its “all-weather friend,” China.Whether Beijing wants the relationship to be any closer, and what opportunities and challenges that may present to the U.S., is a matter of open debate.
Smith goes on to note that China could use its influence to persuade “Pakistan to abandon its support for Islamist militants and advance a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.”
“To date, however, Beijing has proven extremely averse to coordinating approaches with the U.S. on Pakistan,” he added.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan region is home to the largest concentration of terrorist groups in the world, according to the Pentagon.