The photo stands out: three Chinese diplomats in dark suits are surrounded by nine Taliban leaders, in shalwar kameez (long tunic), turbans and brush beards. Not a smile. Communist China, deeply anti-religious and engaged in a fierce repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, a region bordering Afghanistan, where beards and other religious symbols are enough to make residents suspects sent to “re-education” camps, is the one of the first states to officially reach out to this fundamentalist Islamist group, whose latest military successes have propelled it to the gates of power.
“The Taliban are a crucial political and military force in Afghanistan,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday (July 28th), adding that he hoped to see them. “The Taliban play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”. This outstretched hand from Beijing to the Taliban in need of international recognition is an exercise in realpolitik for China, worried about the security of its borders, and in particular the risk that Afghanistan could serve as a refuge for Uighur Islamist fighters.
The Taliban delegation, which arrived in Tianjin, east of Beijing, for a two-day visit on Tuesday, July 27, was led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, number two in the Taliban hierarchy.
“The Islamic Emirate has assured China that Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the country. They promised not to interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan, but rather to help solve problems and bring peace ” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Agence France-Presse.
The leaders of the “students of religion” seem for the moment to be concerned with projecting an image of moderation and, with regard to Beijing, to assure their big neighbor that they have no intention of going to wear it. iron in the scourge of Xinjiang where Uighur Muslims are the object of intense repression.
“In view of the comments given on both sides, we can see that the Taliban are aware of China’s sensitivities, especially on the fact that Uighur militants can operate from their territory,” says Andrew Small, researcher at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and author of The China Pakistan Axis (2015, Oxford University Press, untranslated).
The Taliban have said they know China is important in many ways: both in terms of international legitimacy, economic support, and even for relations with Pakistan, given the very strong relationship between Pakistan and China. “