KABUL – In what seems to be a high-stakes geopolitical maneuver, China is strategically engaging with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to both check the influence of Uyghur freedom activists and tap into the country’s vast natural resources. The uneasy relationship between Beijing and the Taliban, attributed to concerns over Uyghur activists finding refuge in Afghanistan, has led China to adopt a cautious approach in its dealings with the new Afghan leadership.
Despite two years having passed since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul following the hasty American withdrawal, China has refrained from officially recognizing the Taliban regime. However, reports suggest that China, led by President Xi Jinping, is actively increasing its involvement with the Taliban. This engagement is seen as a response to the growing influence of Uyghur activists, who pose a significant threat to China’s domestic and regional interests.
Experts highlight that China’s expanding influence in Afghanistan is driven by a calculated desire to curb Uyghur activism, coupled with ambitions to exploit the nation’s valuable natural resources. The country’s businesses have been aggressively exploring opportunities in Afghanistan, particularly in the mining sector. Chinese companies have secured contracts for resource extraction, with deals such as the one struck with the Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co. for oil extraction in northern Afghanistan.
China’s diplomatic and trade relations with the Taliban are rooted in pragmatic geopolitical calculations. Analysts suggest that Beijing aims to solidify its influence in the region, effectively minimizing Western presence, while securing early access to economic, mineral, and natural resource benefits. Wang Yu, China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, has been engaging with Taliban officials to navigate the complexities surrounding Uyghur-related issues and to secure business opportunities for Chinese firms.
For the Taliban, China’s financial support plays a pivotal role, especially as the West imposes sanctions. The unstable nature of the region, characterized by various militant groups, adds complexity to the situation. Experts emphasize that the safety of Chinese nationals working on projects in Afghanistan is paramount, as any threat to their security could prompt China to withdraw its involvement.
China’s strategy involves offering economic and developmental assistance to the Taliban in exchange for addressing Beijing’s security concerns related to Uyghur activism and safeguarding Chinese interests. Additionally, China seeks cooperation from the Afghan leadership in preventing Uyghur groups from targeting Chinese interests and curbing activities of Pakistani groups that could disrupt projects associated with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.