As China pursues relations with Taliban, Global Times urge Chinese netizens not to see it as enemy

Taliban appears to find a friend in China too.

Matthias Ang | July 22, 2021, 05:01 PM

China's hawkish state-controlled media, the Global Times (GT), has criticised some overzealous netizens in the country for seeing the the Afghan militant group Taliban as an enemy.

Hu Xijin, the chief editor of the outlet which is often seen as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said in an op-ed that those who have called for China to take a hostile stance against the group, and perceive it as an enemy of state interests, are "emotional, naive and deeply out of place".

Global Times editor: Taliban have expressed friendly attitudes to China

Hu highlighted that both the Afghan government and the Taliban had expressed friendly attitudes towards the country, which is good for China.

In addition, both the UK and U.S. governments have engaged with the Taliban, with the U.S. no longer calling the Taliban a terrorist group.

Hu then said while it is understandable that some Chinese people are disgusted with the Taliban over the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas -- which were once the world's tallest Buddhas -- they must realise that the Taliban does not necessarily support terrorism by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (EITM).

He argued:

"The Taliban tends to go to extremes on religious matters and shares values with many terrorist groups. To what extent will their shared values lead to real acts requires an objective assessment."

China views the EITM as one of the terrorist forces threatening security in Xinjiang.

It highlights the EITM as a justification for its crackdown in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang, according to German media Deutsche Welle (DW).

In December 2020, the EITM was removed by the U.S. from its terror list, prompting criticism from China.

Why is the Global Times pushing so hard for friendly relations with Afghanistan?

Taliban have sent friendly signals to China

GT appears to be part of a wider attempt by the Chinese government to improve its relations with the Taliban, which called China a "friend" earlier this month.

A spokesperson for the group said that the Taliban welcomed Chinese investors in the country and would ensure their safety.

The Taliban also said that they while they were concerned for the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, they would not interfere in China's internal affairs and engage the country through political dialogue.

The group added that they will no longer allow Uyghur militants to enter the country.

The remarks, which were picked up by GT an another op-ed, were in line with China's interests, and appeared to indicate Taliban's keen interest in pursuing better relations with China as well.

Tensions between China and the Taliban can be largely mitigated by China's relationship with Pakistan

There appears to be some wariness on China's part, however. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on July 14, urged the Taliban to "make a clean break with all terrorist forces", to avoid expanding the conflict in Afghanistan, and also to prevent the country from becoming "a gathering ground for terrorists".

Doubling down on Wang's remarks, another GT op-ed called on the Taliban to renounce terrorism and cited "experts" who advised China to take the Taliban's friendly stance with caution.

However, as a commentary on Foreign Policy (FP) pointed out, any potential tension between China and the Taliban is likely to be manageable, given China's longstanding relationship with Pakistan, where Taliban's leadership is allegedly based.

Pakistan has also reportedly provided support to the Afghan Taliban (which is separate from Pakistan's own Taliban-style militant groups), while Pakistani authorities have not stopped the country's Islamists from fighting alongside the group in Afghanistan, according to DW.

Terror attack in Pakistan on Chinese workers does not appear to have shaken relations

As a case in point about the strength of the two countries' relations, FP noted that despite disagreements between China and Pakistan on the cause of a bomb attack on a bus in northern Pakistan on July 14, which killed nine Chinese workers, Pakistan eventually acquiesced to China's statement on the event.

Also, while GT put forth the theory on July 16 that the Pakistani Taliban was a possible group behind the attack, in another op-ed on the same day, it reiterated China's support for Pakistan and highlighted the value that the Pakistani government placed on the relationship with China.

Top collage adapted via Global News/YouTube & Global Times/YouTube