On March 31, China held its third meeting of foreign ministers of countries neighboring Afghanistan in Tunxi, Anhui province. The meeting was attended by foreign ministers or senior representatives of six of Afghanistan’s neighbors, Russia and the Afghan interim administration. A joint statement was adopted, along with an initiative for support of practical cooperation and reconstruction of the country.
The meeting was a testament to China’s commitment as a major power, and it served to build political consensus among Afghanistan’s stakeholders and the international community for dealing with the evolving situation there and setting up a coordination mechanism to ensure the country’s security and stability. It charted a course to end the chaos and promote order.
China improved the effectiveness of the meeting by promoting institutional innovation. As the host, it expanded the gathering for the first time to become a new model — Afghanistan’s neighbors + Afghanistan — by inviting Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting Afghan foreign minister, to attend the conference, which helped the international community to understand more about the current situation, to be aware of the views and suggestions of the Afghan parties and to discuss and formulate consensus and proposals that are more in line with the situation on the ground.
This new model has served to build consensus and enhance understanding, and it has won unanimous applause from the international community. It demonstrates China’s role as a responsible power and neighboring country.
Second, it advances the coordination of major countries and enhances the relevance of the meeting mechanism. Before the meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the participants of the China-U.S.-Russia+ consultation mechanism on Afghanistan. This arrangement enables the major powers and neighboring countries to understand each other’s concerns and facilitate discussions to reach pragmatic consensus that accommodates the interests of all parties.
The meeting focused on the Afghan people’s security, stability and livelihoods, which will contribute to enforcing the principle of “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.” The political and security course has been set, and neighboring countries will work in concert toward building a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. It is stressed that Afghanistan’s construction is of fundamental importance. It includes political inclusiveness, moderate governance, improvement of people’s livelihoods and commitment to safeguarding the rights of ethnic groups, women and children. This embodies the concrete expectations of the international community about the Afghanistan’s course and common concerns, and they are in line with the common interests of neighboring countries and the international community.
Moreover, economic and humanitarian priorities were highlighted, including an agreement by neighboring countries on the need to prioritize humanitarian assistance, to work to ensure that no systemic humanitarian disaster will occur in Afghanistan and to support the United Nations and key countries in providing needed humanitarian and anti-pandemic assistance. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s neighbors have pledged to support its economic reconstruction in the fields of connectivity, trade, economy, agriculture, energy and capacity building, and to gradually enhance its inherent development capacity.
This is a major breakthrough in Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power, providing the international community with a new approach to solve the Afghan problem by economic means.
The bottom line of counterterrorism and ensuring security was emphasized. The territory of Afghanistan will not be used as a launching pad to threaten the security of neighboring countries, and no terrorist organization can gain a foothold within the territory of Afghanistan. Extreme terrorist organizations that pose a major security threat to Afghanistan’s neighbors must be dealt with severely. There should be no room for terrorism on Afghan territory.
To this end, the Afghan interim government should adopt corresponding initiatives to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a breeding ground, sanctuary or source of proliferation for terrorism. In tandem, its neighbors will work with Afghanistan to crack down on drug trafficking, denying terrorist organizations financial resources and helping Afghanistan upgrade its counterterrorism capabilities.
The meeting strengthened the mechanism for responding to the evolving situation in Afghanistan, which is conducive to further coordination between its neighbors and the international community on Afghan issues.
A regular meeting of special envoys of countries neighboring Afghanistan was to be launched after the meeting, and three working groups — on political diplomacy, economic humanitarianism and security and stability — will be established to provide institutional guarantees for the implementation of the measures adopted at the meeting.
It is expected that Afghanistan’s neighbors will attach great importance to the Afghan issue and will make concerted efforts, guided by the goal to achieve long-term security and stability in the region, and will work to better align with relevant international mechanisms and coordinate with major powers to return order and development to Afghanistan and bring about lasting solutions that imperil regional security.
The outcome of the Tunxi meeting shows that China attaches great importance to the security environment in areas to its west and supports Afghanistan’s postwar reconstruction in a responsible manner. For example, it supports Afghanistan’s pursuit of an independent path of development by relying on its own strength. It supports Afghanistan as it embarks on a path of prosperity and progress. And it supports Afghanistan in pursuing the path of peaceful development. The security and stability of the country is conducive to the stability and prosperity of China’s frontiers, the westward expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative, together with connectivity projects and building a community with a shared future.
President Xi Jinping pointed out that “a peaceful, stable, developing and prosperous Afghanistan is the aspiration of all Afghan people. It is also in the common interest of countries in the region and the international community,” he said. An impoverished Afghanistan is certainly not in the interest of Afghanistan’s neighbors and will pose a real quandary for global governance.
If the success of the Tunxi meeting is any guide, a conclusion could be drawn that the following trends will emerge in China’s westward development and regional cooperation:
• More attention will be paid to operations and investment in the greater Middle East region. As the world is in the midst of unprecedented changes, the Middle East is uniquely positioned geographically and boasts untapped development potential. It plays an important role in China’s BRI and in ensuring energy supply security and the safety of China’s overseas interests.
• China will attach greater importance to strengthening cooperation with regional countries to jointly address the uncertainties in the world, including regional security risks and challenges. China will strengthen cooperation with countries in the greater Middle East region in areas of trade and economy, energy, infrastructure, counterterrorism and military, and it will integrate its own security with that of the region in a bid to build a closer community of interests.
• China will step up its efforts to play a central coordinating role, with a focus on solving the Afghanistan issue, and tackle security flash points in the greater Central Asia region. In this China-U.S.-Russia+ meeting, China has created a channel for face-to-face communication between the Taliban and the United States, which speaks volumes about China’s political resolve and determination.