Talking to the Taliban

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There were no photos, no official statements and no reports in the newspapers. But, most importantly, Beijing has not denied the news reports.

In December last year, a few weeks after the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made his first visit to China, Beijing reportedly also hosted a delegation of officials from the Afghan Taliban. According to accounts in the foreign media, the Chinese were interested in exploring the possibility that it might act as a negotiator between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an Afghan official as saying: “The Chinese are positioning themselves in how they can support the reconciliation process… [they] could provide a venue for talks.”

Pakistan media said that China’s special envoy to Afghanistan Sun Yuxi had also met Taliban representatives in Peshawar.

The only comment from the Chinese Foreign Ministry was: “China values its relationship with Afghanistan and hopes to see it achieve long-lasting peace, stability and development at an early date. China supports the ‘Afghan-led’ peace and reconciliation process and stands ready to play a constructive role.”

Nevertheless the meeting is an unusual one. Officially China follows a policy of non-interference in other countries’ affairs. Yet as is often the case, this insistence weakens when Chinese interests are at stake. The restive region of Xinjiang shares a short border with Afghanistan, for instance, and Chinese companies have sizable investments in the country, like the Aynak copper mine.

Additionally, the withdrawal of US troops at the end of last year has raised the possibility of further instability in the war-torn country. American officials are said to be pleased that China is getting more involved in the reconciliation process.

Whether the Taliban is an organisation that the Chinese can do business with remains to be seen.

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