What does the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan mean for its neighbour China?

It would be easy to say that China welcomes the Taliban retaking of Afghanistan.

State media is full of mocking rhetoric at the hasty US and Western troop withdrawal and the abandonment of the Afghan people. It has described the retaking of Afghanistan as "humiliating’’ for the United States and a classic example of what happens when you meddle in another countries' affairs. Something China claims it would never do.

The Global Times has posted a reminder of the George Bush speech 20 years ago declaring Taliban rule was coming to an end. 

Then there are the photographs of a recent Taliban visit to Tianjin. The meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi was unusually highly publicised. Wang was quoted as saying the Taliban would play an important role in the peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction of Afghanistan.The Taliban and the Chinese Government have maintained relations for many years. Their meeting was nothing new, only the strong PR was unusual.

It is clear that while China might not have been given any official heads up about the Taliban’s plans, or the rapid nature with which they would unfold, momentum was already building at the time of that 28 July meeting, and the Chinese were given security assurances that allowed some of its embassy staff to leave before the fall of Kabul.

But China’s intentions regards its relationship with the Taliban and regards Afghanistan are primarily focused on security and managing regional threats.

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Credit: AP

The country shares a 50 mile border with Afghanistan and it has enjoyed the (American-led) stability in the country. In 2016, together with Pakistan and Tajikistan, it formed a security arrangement with Afghanistan – the Quadrilateral Co-operation and Co-ordination Mechanism to counter terrorism. 

Its main priority has been to gather intelligence and counter the potential for terrorism or extremism to spill across its border.

China's government is, however, uncomfortable with the Taliban's ideological agenda and will not want to see a resurgent Taliban, buoyed by its seemingly easy and rapid victory. Any ensuing chaos in the country would increase the risk, and potential rise, of violence and extremism.

In a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, China has called for a “smooth transition” and for negotiations to take place that would “establish an open and inclusive Islamic Government”.

Having described Afghanistan as "the graveyard of empires," China will be very careful not to be drawn in a strategic alliance. The purpose of it maintaining relations with the Taliban is to ensure stability in the region. The Taliban, having been given that photo opportunity and diplomatic win in Tianjin, will be looking to the Asian superpower for economic support, but that will only come if Beijing has been given sufficient reassurances regarding peace and security.