The Taliban will join China’s Belt and Road forum

This week, China is hosting its third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing to share plans for this international infrastructure and energy development project.

The Taliban will join China’s Belt and Road forum
Afghan Taliban's Deputy Minister of Information and Culture and spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during the death anniversary of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the late leader and founder of the Taliban, in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara/File Photo

The backstory: After the US withdrew its military from Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban quickly took over the government in Kabul. At the time, Taliban leaders promised to talk with Afghan officials to create an “open, inclusive Islamic government.” A peaceful transition plan was created, and the Taliban created its own new state government that currently controls the country. 

But, no other country has formally recognized this Taliban government, with many concerned about the state of Afghan human rights. Since taking over, the Taliban began cutting access to human rights, especially for women. They’ve been banned from certain public spaces (like parks and gyms), are banned from working most jobs and have to follow strict dress codes. 

More recently: Since the Taliban came to power, China has been sending humanitarian aid and assistance to the Afghan people. The two have also stayed strong trade partners. In September, China became the first country to re-establish diplomatic relations with Afghanistan by sending a new ambassador to the country to work with the Taliban government. When the ambassador, Zhao Xing, arrived in Kabul, he was accepted with open arms and a giant celebration. He’s the first new ambassador from any country to go to Afghanistan since 2021. 

Experts say that this move is part of China’s strategy for growing its influence in the Middle East. China’s foreign ministry explained the decision as a way to continue “advancing dialogue and cooperation” with Afghanistan. To be clear, though, China still hasn’t formally recognized the Taliban government, and it said this was all part of the normal rotation of China’s ambassador to the country.

The development: This week, China is hosting its third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing to share plans for this international infrastructure and energy development project. President Xi Jinping will be there, and so will Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Saturday, a spokesman for the Taliban told Reuters that it would also be represented at the forum. The Taliban's acting minister for commerce and industry, Haji Nooruddin Azizi, will be there and “will invite large investors” to Afghanistan, said a ministry spokesperson to Reuters via text message. 

China has plans to help build a road through the Wakhan Corridor, a strip of land in northern Afghanistan, for direct access between the two countries. This is one of the few high-profile international events the Taliban has been invited to, but China isn’t making any moves at the moment to officially recognize its government.

Key comments:

"By being the first to name an ambassador post-takeover, China aims to position itself as an influential actor in the region - a possible diplomatic flexing of muscles, especially when many Western countries are still hesitant to engage with the Taliban," said Farwa Aamer, Director of South Asia Initiatives at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“China has always attached great importance to the development of China-Afghanistan relations, played a constructive role in promoting the peace reconciliation process in Afghanistan, and provided assistance within its capacity to support Afghanistan's economic development and improve people's livelihood on the basis of respecting the will of the Afghan people,” said China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.