China-Taliban ties warming ahead of U.S. troop withdrawal

China-Taliban ties warming ahead of US troop withdrawal
In this file photo of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, third left, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban's chief negotiator, third right, and other members of the Taliban delegation prior to talks in Moscow, Russia. Photo credit AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File

China’s foreign minister met Wednesday with a delegation of high-level Taliban officials as ties between them warm ahead of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

A photo posted on the ministry’s website showed Wang Yi posing with senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his delegation in the city of Tianjin, then sitting down to talks. The highly conspicuous show of friendliness had the appearance of a diplomatic mission at a time when the Taliban are craving legitimacy.

Wang said China respects Afghan sovereign independence and territorial integrity and always adheres to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

He said the hasty withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO “reveals the failure of America’s policies and offers the Afghan people an important opportunity to stabilize and develop their own country.”

While no agenda was announced for the meeting, China has an interest in pushing the Taliban to deliver on peace talks or at least reduce the level of violence as they gobble up territory from Afghan government forces.

China and Afghanistan share a narrow border high in the remote Wakhan Valley, and China has long been concerned about a possible spillover of Islamic militancy into its formerly volatile Xinjiang region. China has also signed deals for oil, gas and copper mining in Afghanistan, although those have long been dormant.

“The Taliban are a pivotal military and political force in Afghanistan and are expected to play an important role in the in process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction," Wang said.

China, Wang said, hopes the Taliban will put the nation's and the people's interests first and focus on peace talks, set peace goals, establish a “positive image" and work for unity among all factions and ethnic groups.

Wang also said China hopes the Taliban will “deal resolutely" with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a group China claims is leading a push for independence in Xinjiang, but which many experts doubt even exists in any operational form.

The heads of the Taliban Religious Council and the Propaganda Committee were also on the trip.

The U.S