On Monday August 16, a day after the Taliban completed their takeover of Kabul, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked during a press conference if Beijing would recognize a Taliban-led Afghan government. Hua replied, “We are ready to continue to develop good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in Afghanistan’s peace and reconstruction,” but then added, “We hope the Afghan Taliban can form solidarity with all factions and ethnic groups in Afghanistan and build a broad-based and inclusive political structure suited to the national realities,” indicating that Beijing’s path to recognizing the new power in Kabul may be more complicated than it appears. That formal recognition would not be coming immediately to the Taliban was further confirmed Wednesday as spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “It is customary international practice that the recognition of a government comes after its formation.”
This back and forth elicits the question of when will the Chinese government recognize the Taliban regime? China holds small but significant interests in Afghanistan, connected as that country is to the stability of neighboring Pakistan, home to approximately $60 billion worth of Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investment. Chinese companies are anxious to develop some of Afghanistan’s under-utilized natural resources, including metal deposits and rare earth minerals. Chinese actors have noted such opportunities this week, with one former vice minister of the Ministry of Commerce noting on August 17 that “Chinese companies entering the Afghan market at this time are best situated for win-win cooperation.” Despite such hopes, the comments by Hua and Zhao indicate that Beijing remains concerned that Taliban control will create instability in the region. China’s fears of Islamist extremism among its Uyghur population in its northwestern Xinjiang province—which borders Afghanistan—has deepened in recent years as the government has pursued a heavy-handed crackdown on its Muslim minorities.
Ultimately, China will continue to engage with the Taliban and will likely recognize the government the movement eventually forms. Ideally for Beijiing, this government would include enough opposition figures and representatives of Afghanistan’s minority groups to maintain some semblance of credibility and stability. If the Taliban is unable to consolidate its position and maintain buy-in from enough of the country’s contentious factions, it is likely that a new civil war will break out. Such a scenario would require a higher degree of Chinese involvement than has been seen before, and thus is a situation that Beijing will diligently seek to avoid.