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China-Taliban Relations and ETIM
Ajay Mohan
2023-01-11
Region : North East Asia, China,
Issue : Military Issues, Security, Terrorism,
U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 created a new opportunity for regional powers to fill the vacuum left by Americans. China got an opportunity because China shared its border with Afghanistan 76 kilometers. And China kept its embassy open in Afghanistan even after the Taliban took over in August 2021. China's engagement with the new regime in Afghanistan engagement does not mean China has recognized the Taliban regime.
But China shows its desire to make good relations with the Taliban because one of the biggest threats was East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) coming from the Taliban. This threat was confirmed when in the 2022 attack on Kabul’s hotel which is visited by Chinese nationals. ETIM is the biggest threat to China interestingly the U.S. removed it from a terrorist list in 2020. According to the UNSC’s July 2020 report at least 500 ETIM Afghan fighters are active in Afghanistan ( Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Takhar ) province.
China has realized that ETIM disturbs the internal security situation. That’s why China trying to make good relations with the Taliban and promises trade and investment in Afghanistan but for security reasons, China does have much investment in Afghanistan. Protection of Chinese investments and personnel in Afghanistan has been difficult. China has a bad experience in 2007 when the biggest Chinese investment in Afghanistan in a copper mine at Mes Aynak signed in 2007 was attacked 19 times subsequently 40 Chinese engineers departed due to the security situation.
ETIM strengthened relations with many terror outfits inside Afghanistan such as Al-Qaida, Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), and ISIS-K. The Main concern for China is that many Uyghur militants coming from Syria (latakia and Idlib ) provinces join hands with Afghan-based Uyghurs.
Openly Taliban criticize Uyghurs but some reports suggest that the Taliban keep them as a trump card. The Problematic situation for China is that on one side Uyghurs attacks the Chinese as well another side Tehrik- e – Taliban (TTP) and Balochistan Liberation Army also attacked Chinese interests in Pakistan. Reported that many Uyghurs militant has joined the ISIS-K such as the recent October suicide bombing of Shitte mosque in Afghanistan suicider was Uyghur.
This type of situation endangers China’s ambitious project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In 2019 three countries China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan agreed to expand China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan. According to Jason Li of The Stimson Center, “In China’s calculation, the planned extension of the $61 billion CPEC into Afghanistan could be an essential solution to create a stable and terrorist-free Afghanistan in the long term.”
The threat remains active because Chinese suppression of Uyghur in Xinjiang province is continuing. Initially, the Taliban did not take seriously Chinese threat because may be China not investing in Afghanistan in a big way. That’s why China recently signs a deal with the Taliban regime to extract oil from the Amu Darya and establish the oil reserve in the country’s northern Sar-e Pul province. That is the major trading deal with the Taliban since they came to power in 2021. According to the deal Chinese company will be extracting oil from an area covering 4,500 square kilometers collectively in northern Sar-e Pul, Jawzjan, and Faryab provinces. Chinese promises they provide 3000 jobs for the Afghani people. It has to be seen what kind of job Afghan nationals will do. On this deal, Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu said “The Amu Darya Oil contract is an important project between China and Afghanistan”. Taliban government has a 20 percent partnership in the project it can be increased to 75 percent. Recently, on a trial basis, China has started the China-Afghanistan train corridor. Taliban has to tackle the situation otherwise attack on Chinese assets and nationals may diminish the Taliban’s credibility on the world platforms and create doubt about security guarantees for foreign investors, investments, and trade.
China’s state-owned company China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) previously signed a deal with the previous government in 2012 to extract oil at the Amu Darya recent deal revised previous one deal. Chinese investment is a ray of hope for the Taliban and it will provide the way for other countries to come to Afghanistan. But another problem is that the Taliban is not a world-recognized country and as well as it has not any banking system. So that is how the Taliban use the money given by the Chinese or other nations this is questionable.
But we should not forget that previous China’s experience with the Taliban was not good may be they change now. Reports suggest that Afghanistan has an estimated $1 trillion in resources. To manage the security situation in Afghanistan China has to play a more proactive role in favor of the Taliban. One side it seems that China is gambling in Afghanistan if the Taliban did not control the situation Chinese investments is ruined otherwise China will invest more. Wait and watch situation for China. If the Taliban did not take decisive action against Uyghur militants it will invite more terrorist groups to unite. It will not be easy to Taliban to contain these terrorist groups. Because, Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaida declared war on China and they helping ETIM.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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