A stable Afghanistan, Wang says, is vital to the security of Xinjiang, China’s far west where Islamic militants are seeking independence. Some have gained sanctuary and training in Pakistan and along the Pakistan-Afghan border. Beijing fears chaos, or victory by the Taliban, would allow these groups greater leeway.
The US is encouraging Beijing to boost its investment and aid in Afghanistan and backs its participation in various peace-seeking initiatives, including a Pakistan-Afghanistan-China forum that met last month for the second time.
Davood Moradian, who heads the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, says the Chinese are treading carefully, realizing they lack expertise in a complex political landscape that has tripped up other great powers.
“The Chinese are ambiguous. They don’t want the Taliban to return to power and are concerned about a vacuum after 2014 that the Taliban could fill, but they also don’t like having US troops in their neighborhood,” he says.
Though China does not want a Taliban takeover, Beijing regards the group as a “legitimate political force,” Small says. Beijing was on its way to recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the invasion of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government has backed off from earlier criticism that the Chinese were not contributing their share to security and reconstruction of the country.