Conflicts & War

China, Russia align positions with an eye on Afghanistan

By Jesus Centeno

Beijing, Aug 13 (EFE).- China and Russia concluded Friday their joint military drills sending a signal of strength and solidarity with an eye on Afghanistan, where the Taliban continue their rapid progress as they seek to take over the country.

Beijing has been keenly monitoring the situation, and – according to experts – is keen on ensuring it does not contribute to a resurgence of Uighur extremism in its turf.

Up to 10,000 troops participated this week in “anti-terrorist” exercises aimed at demonstrating the “determination” of the two armies to face “the changing security situation” in Central Asia, said a statement by the Chinese defense ministry.

It underlined the presence of Chinese J-20 fighter planes, H-6K bombers and Y-20 military transport aircraft, among others, apart from armored vehicles and the novel HQ-17 missiles, capable of bringing down all kinds of “threats” entering its defense perimeter.

China seeks to avoid being affected by the conflict in Afghanistan, a country with which it shares a 60-kilometer (37 miles) border in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a largely ethnic Uighur area where several terror attacks have occurred over the past few decades.

Some of these attacks were supported by groups formed by Uighurs fleeing Xinjiang.

According to a 2020 report by the United Nations Security Council, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other terrorist organizations from China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan continues to be be active in Afghanistan.

“China is concerned that Afghanistan can radiate instability and become a sanctuary for the Uighur movement. That is why it maintains a strategic link with Pakistan, a country capable of influencing the acts of the Taliban,” researcher Nicolas de Pedro of the London-based Institute for Statecraft explained to EFE.

Islamabad, on its part, has always shown its support for Beijing regarding Xinjiang, a region where human rights organizations have denounced the existence of forced detention, torture and sterilization of Uighurs, which Beijing has repeatedly denied.

Weeks before the Taliban began their latest offensive – they captured Kandahar, the second largest Afghan city, on Friday and already control 15 of the country’s 34 regional capitals – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met with a delegation of the insurgents led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to decide on a non-aggression pact, according to the Spanish researcher.

Wang had then remarked that the hasty withdrawal of the United States and NATO troops was a failure, but underlined that it also provided an important opportunity for the Afghan people.

However, Beijing “fears that if the Taliban seize power they will initiate a crackdown that would cause massive waves of refugees, something that would bother neighboring countries,” said De Pedro.

Meanwhile, the international community has been trying to pressurize the Taliban to the negotiating table. Talks were held this week in the Qatari capital of Doha, which the Chinese representative for Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong, attended.

The diplomat told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that all parties had agreed that there could only be one political solution in Afghanistan and that it’s sovereignty must be respected.

On the other hand, the joint military maneuvers between Beijing and Moscow have grown “increasingly complex and sophisticated, including Intelligence,” seeking to demonstrate their ability to “work together” and “balance global power,” according to De Pedro.

“China wants to show that its model succeeds wherever the US fails, something that will translate into future investments in Afghanistan,” he said.

The Chinese narrative has not shied away from targeting the US regarding the latest developments in Afghanistan.

“The US has an inescapable responsibility for what is happening,” Qian Feng, director of research at Tsinghua University’s National Strategy Institute commented to EFE.

The academic stressed that “the Afghan problem cannot be resolved by force”, and that “it will depend on the different political factions and international efforts for Afghanistan to eventually become a stable country”.

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