A Taliban spokesman praised Beijing as a “main partner” and financier as the group works to establish national governance and develop Afghanistan’s economy.
“China is our main partner, and it represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us because it is willing to invest and rebuild our country,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica on September 1.
Mujahid made the remarks as the militant group, which took over Afghanistan in dramatic fashion last month, celebrated the final withdrawal of American troops from the country, bringing a 20-year conflict to an end.
However, money has become a major concern for the Taliban after the US barred the group from accessing billions of dollars in Afghan assets held in US bank accounts, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund both suspended funding for Afghanistan.
With cash running low, the Taliban appears to be betting on Beijing, which has recently signaled its willingness to build ties with the group—despite the fact that it has yet to formally recognize the Taliban regime.
Mujahid stated that the Taliban were “very interested” in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a billion-dollar infrastructure project championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping that aims to increase the regime’s economic and political clout globally. Despite the fact that Afghanistan is a formal member of the BRI, no projects have begun under the plan.
The spokesperson also mentioned China’s currently dormant investment in the country’s copper mine development project. “We also have rich copper mines that will be able to come back to life and be modernized thanks to the Chinese,” Mujahid said.
He went on to say that China is “our gateway to markets all over the world.”
In a phone call with Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao on September 2, the Taliban expressed even more enthusiasm for BRI participation.
According to a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry, Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior member of the Taliban negotiating team, called China “Afghanistan’s trustworthy friend” during the call.
Hanafi expressed a desire to “actively support and participate” in the BRI project, which he believes will “contribute to the prosperity of the region.”
To foster Afghan-China friendship, Hanafi pledged that the Taliban “will absolutely not allow any forces to threaten Chinese interests,” an implicit reference to Uyghur militants whom Beijing fears will launch attacks on Xinjiang, a region bordering Afghanistan where Beijing has imprisoned more than 1 million ethnic Muslim minorities.
The Chinese regime has promised to help the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. In a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin described the Taliban’s control of the country as a “new chapter in its history,” adding that Beijing will “continue to provide the utmost assistance to Afghanistan for the early realization of peace and reconstruction.”
When asked about Mujahid’s remarks, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday, “there are few countries that want us to stay in Afghanistan more than China and Russia.”
“Because it would have tied up our own resources, tied up our own US military, and tied up our own financial assets and options,” she continued, reiterating President Joe Biden’s position that the Afghan withdrawal would allow the US to “shore up” competitiveness in order to compete with China.
“So, the world is united in what they expect the Taliban to do, which is to allow people who want to leave the country to leave, and China must decide where they stand in that effort,” Psaki explained.
The Taliban has promised to form an “inclusive government” and to grant amnesty to those who fought against them or worked for the now-defunct Afghan government. Such promises, however, have been met with skepticism both within the country and among the larger Afghan diaspora.
An Afghan evacuee who worked for the government prior to the Taliban’s takeover discovered that since his escape, a large group of Taliban members had visited his home demanding information about his whereabouts. He told The Epoch Times that three Afghans he knew were detained and tortured by Taliban members for three days before being released only after signing a document promising not to leave the country or reveal the details of their detention and torture to the public.
In recent weeks, Beijing has used the Afghanistan crisis to discredit the United States. Its English-language media outlet, CGTN, recently urged Washington to “come to terms with the Taliban,” “work with us,” and lift sanctions.
While some analysts argue that the Chinese regime has much to gain in the country by filling the void left by the US, questions remain about whether it will be able to maintain a workable relationship with the Taliban, whose cooperation will likely be contingent on Chinese funding.
“If the CCP is unwilling or unable to provide the expected funds on time, or if China does anything that does not please the Taliban, then the Taliban will very quickly bite the Chinese hands that feed them,” Frank Lehberger, a senior research fellow at India’s Usanas Foundation, previously told The Epoch Times.
Meanwhile, Beijing is grappling with the possibility of a militancy spillover into the region surrounding Afghanistan, where it is already dealing with an increase in violence directed at Chinese workers on BRI projects.
At least nine Chinese nationals who worked on the BRI project in Pakistan were killed in two recent suicide bombings targeting Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
“China believes it can control the Taliban,” but its victory has inspired other insurgent groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorist group, which is “very much opposed to China,” according to Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” during a recent Epoch TV webinar.
“We could see the entire region engulfed in flames, in which case China would be an obvious target,” Chang added.