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China has courted the Taliban for years

By Lionel Te-Chen Chiou - posted Tuesday, 31 August 2021

On the next day after Kabul fell to the Taliban, Chinese state media began capitalizing on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan to taunt Taiwan, arguing that the island could face the same fate as Afghanistan and be “abandoned” by the US, even asserting that “Afghanistan today, Taiwan tomorrow.”

The quick responses of the Chinese propaganda reveals that whatever the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is doing to Afghanistan and Taiwan is covered by the same playbook. In other words, China’s Afghanistan policy and Taiwan policy are outlined under the umbrella of the CCP’s grand strategy. The lesson which the democracies must learn is that whatever happens in Afghanistan, the CCP is plotting something towards Taiwan accordingly.

Both Afghanistan and Taiwan are significant for the CCP, as both are the exits of the very two wings of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which are the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” and the “Silk Road Economic Belt.” To maximise the BRI’s prospects of success, the CCP has been hedge betting, putting its bets on both Afghanistan and Taiwan to guarantee a win, or wishfully a double-win for the BRI. To achieve that goal, China has been trying to interfere in Afghanistan via the Taliban, and in Taiwan via the pro-Chinese camps on the island.


China allegedly began keeping in touch with the Taliban in 2001, according to Li Qingyan, the associate research fellow of China Institute of International Studies. Li told The Paper (澎湃新闻), which is owned by the Communist Party of China Shanghai Municipal Committee, that China had expected the chaos in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal. Li’s comment illuminates that the CCP have been long waiting for its turn to interfere with Afghanistan.

The chaos is predictable because the US military withdrawal inevitably leads to a power vacuum in Afghanistan, which China is keen to fill. That was why the CCP had been secretly meeting with the Taliban. However, the CCP has no longer kept it secret since 2016.

The Chinese Government's mouthpiece the Global Times (Huanqiu, 環球網) published an editorial on 2nd August 2016 admitting that the Chinese government would not deny having secret meetings with the Taliban. The timing of the editorial being released is worth noting. It was just 2 months after the new leaderships of the Taliban and Taiwan were formed.

Ex-Taliban chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed in a US drone strike on 21 May 2016. Days after the incident, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada became the new New Taliban chief. The change of leadership was apparently an opening for the CCP to sway the Taliban into being closer to China.

In Taiwan, the ex-president Ma Ying-jeou of the pro-Chinese party Kuomintang (KMT) finished his term on 19th May 2016. In the next morning, Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was sworn in for a first term at the office of the president. The change of leadership marked the suspension of Taiwan’s pro-Chinese policy.

In mid-2016, it was the time for the CCP to raise its bets on the Taliban and Afghanistan, as the prospects of taming Taiwan became dim. Two months later, the CCP no longer hid what it was doing with the Taliban.


The wording that the Global Times chose when it talked about the Taliban might illuminate the CCP’s intentions of interfering in Afghanistan. For example, the editorial claims that "China always standed for 'Afghan people administering Afghanistan'" (中国一直主张“阿人治阿”). The phrase “Afghan people administering Afghanistan” must ring a bell to many Hong Kongers.

What does it have anything to do with Hong Kong? Well, just think about " how the CCP has kept saying that it stand for "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" (港人治港) for decades. Then, look at what Hong Kong has become. "Pro-Beijing candidates are running uncontested for most seats in a Hong Kong election committee tasked with choosing the city's leader, with the pro-democracy camp almost absent," a Reuters news article on 13th August says.

If the subtext of the phrase 'Afghan people administering Afghanistan' is not clear enough, then keep reading the editorial in 2016. It writes in the concluding paragraph that "China apparently must not leave Afghanistan ‘unmananged’" (中国显然既不能“不管”阿富汗). In other words, to leave Afghanistan alone is not an option for the CCP.

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About the Author

Lionel Te-Chen Chiou is a Sydney-based freelance journalist specializing in cultural affairs. His main research interests are the Chinese Communist Party and its narrative control.

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