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China, U.S. Must Meet Halfway

Sep 03, 2021
  • Fu Xiaoqiang

    Vice President, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

With the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized Kabul, the capital, changing the flag and re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. But the country remains far from peace and stability, and the international community still has many concerns. Whether Afghanistan, after nearly half a century of war and turmoil, can move from chaos to stability — and then to good governance — depends on strengthened coordination and joint actions by the international community, including China and the United States.

The Taliban may be back in power, but Afghanistan remains riddled with problems. Four questions, in particular, need special attention from the international community and increased communication and coordination between the world’s two major powers.

First, will the Taliban’s ruling philosophy be accepted by the international community? China and the U.S. need to strengthen their guidance. To some extent, the Taliban’s return to power was the choice of the Afghan people — a reality that should be understood and respected by the world community. It is hard, perhaps even impossible, to adapt any foreign model to a country that sprang from a completely different history, culture and set of national conditions. As modern ideas of secularism, liberty and democracy are accepted in most societies, the world is keenly following the Taliban’s attitudes toward, for example, women’s education. They insist on enforcing Sharia law.

Probably the world will not be able to persuade them with regard to the ideology or philosophy they intend to follow. But their ideas of governance will have to incorporate some modern elements and be accepted by the rest of the world. Before 9/11, the Taliban regime’s fundamentalism caused deep concerns in the international community, and its radical actions, such as dynamiting the Buddhas of Bamiyan and restricting women’s rights, were widely criticized. As responsible world powers, China and the U.S. need to use their respective channels to step up communication and coordination and jointly urge and guide the Taliban to govern properly and establish a moderate, inclusing and peace-loving image

Second, will Taliban rule lead to a humanitarian disaster? China and the U.S. need to coordinate with the international community to prevent such a scenario. The chaos in Kabul has sounded the alarm to the international community that Afghanistan could face a new humanitarian catastrophe. On one hand, the takeover has triggered social chaos, and many Afghans, having no confidence in the Taliban combined with many security concerns, are fleeing as refugees, further exacerbating the already serious humanitarian problems in the country.

Both the food crisis and child malnutrition are likely to worsen in the future, and international aid will be needed. Humanitarian disasters will lead to a series of security problems, which China and the U.S. must prepare for together with worst-case scenarios in mind. It is imperative to restore peace, stability and order and avoid to the greatest extent possible unnecessary casualties or massive refugee flows. The U.S. needs to work with its European allies and partners to manage the safe transfer of Afghans who had worked for the West and to resettle them in the U.S. and Europe. China needs to coordinate countries in the region to provide necessary food relief and economic assistance to tide people over their current difficulties.

Third is the question of how the new Afghan regime will be diplomatically recognized, if it is recognized at all? China and the U.S. need to coordinate closely in the United Nations Security Council and come up with a proper plan. The Taliban have vowed to establish through negotiation an open and inclusive Islamic government, which bears on the future peace, stability and sustainable development of the country. Although still under UN Security Council sanctions, the Taliban now face an international environment markedly less onerous than what it was 20 years ago, when it was recognized diplomatically only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. China and the U.S., as permanent members of the UN Security Council, need to coordinate their actions in the UN to develop a unified international attitude toward the Taliban, urge it to honor its promises, give up violence for good and stop sheltering foreign terrorists. They may consider linking diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime to its fulfillment of promises.

Fourth, will Afghanistan again become a source of international terrorism? China and the U.S. need to work with each other closely to prevent that from happening. Over the past two decades, terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement have gathered and developed in Afghanistan, posing grave threats to both international and regional peace and security.

Afghanistan must never again be a haven for terrorists. Such is the bottom line that must be defended in any future political settlement. There are now between 8,000 and 10,000 foreign terrorists and extremists operating in Afghanistan. In this regard, the U.S. has concerns about future developments in Afghanistan that could turn the country into a base for attacks on the U.S. and the West once more. China also has concerns and hopes to eliminate ETIM activities in Afghanistan.

In their phone conversation on Aug. 16, both Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the need for the Taliban to make a clean break from extremism. In light of this, the two countries need to strengthen communication, show sincerity in cooperation and coordinate measures to urge the Taliban to fulfill its commitment to sever ties with all terrorist organizations.

The last American administration applied a double standard by removing ETIM from the list of international terrorist organizations. It is now necessary to rectify this mistake and remove obstacles to cooperation by China, the U.S. and others, on international counterterrorism. It will require joint efforts to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a breeding ground for terrorists.

Notably, it is the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops under the excuse of strategic readjustment that has led to the current crisis in Afghanistan. In other words, the special historical stage that Afghanistan is now going through was largely initiated by the U.S. As the various forces in Afghanistan compete and reshuffle, the Taliban will undoubtedly be the main variable, as well as the overarching contradiction.

Both China and the U.S. are permanent members of the UN Security Council and important participants in the contemporary international system. The whole world hopes to see them coordinate and support each other. Therefore, they need to come to grips with their overarching contradictions, respond to the expectations of the international community and coordinate with Afghanistan’s regional neighbors. On the basis of UN resolutions, they should jointly guide Afghanistan out of the chaos of war and back to a normal social and political order. Constructive, practical cooperation should be the rule, so that Afghanistan will no longer be a major international security concern.

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