China-hosted talks between foreign ministers of Afghanistan's neighboring countries and the Afghan Taliban concluded on Thursday in East China's Tunxi, Anhui Province, foregrounding China's role as a constructive leading force in addressing the Afghan issue. Some analysts said the mechanism has given regional countries confidence in the Afghan Taliban and more expectations to the international community.
According to a joint statement released by Chinese Foreign Ministry after the meeting, all parties held comprehensive, in-depth and constructive discussions on the situation in Afghanistan and cooperation related to Afghanistan in a candid, pragmatic and mutual understanding atmosphere.
The statement urges those countries primarily responsible for Afghanistan's current plight to fulfill their commitments to the country's economic reconstruction and development. It also called for the improvement of people's livelihood and the protection of the basic rights of all Afghans, including ethnic groups, women and children.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi summarized the statement into eight points, including recognizing the governance efforts of the Afghan interim government, supporting Afghanistan's economic reconstruction and independent development, calling on international financial institutions to actively inject liquidity into Afghanistan and urging the US and the West to unfreeze Afghan assets, and strengthen counter-terrorism and security cooperation.
Wang Yi raised three suggestions. He said China recognizes that providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan is a top priority, enhancing its capacity for independent development is a long-term approach, and forming international synergy is necessary.
Wang Yi said China has provided emergency assistance to Afghanistan in the form of food, vaccines, medicines and supplies for the winter, and is ready to support Afghanistan's integration into the regional economic landscape.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a Thursday press briefing that since the establishment of the coordination and cooperation mechanism last September, it has played a constructive role in the smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan by leveraging the strengths of neighboring countries.
Uzbekistan is expected to host the forth Foreign Ministers' Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan in the first quarter of 2023, read the joint statement.
High valued meetings
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday delivered written remarks at the meeting. Xi pointed out that Afghanistan has reached a critical point of transition from chaos to order.
"Afghanistan is a common neighbor and partner of all participating countries, and we form a community with a shared future linked by the same mountains and rivers who would rise and fall together," said Xi. He also noted that a peaceful, stable, developing and prosperous Afghanistan is the aspiration of all Afghans. It is also in the common interests of regional countries and the international community.
Xi stressed that the neighboring countries of Afghanistan should do their best to build consensus and coordinate efforts to support the people of Afghanistan to build a brighter future.
China attaches great importance to the home-hosted meeting and has done a lot of preparatory work to enrich its contents and forms, Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies in Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Compared with the previous two multinational meetings of foreign ministers from Afghanistan's neighboring countries, the mechanism offered more chances for officials to interact by adding extra meetings such as extended Troikas on Afghanistan between China, Russia and the US.
Despite the tense relations between the US and Russia over the Ukraine crisis, the two official representatives still sat together, which reflected their recognition of China's impartiality and importance on the Afghan issues, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Thursday.
The three powers [China, Russia, and the US] have common interests in maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan and preventing Kabul from once again becoming a harbor of terrorism, Qian said.
As two important Muslim countries, Qatar and Indonesia were invited to attend as guests, which is unprecedented. China, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban also talked on Thursday.
The participation of all parties has provided positive factors for the resolution, Qian said. "Nations have realized their unique influence and are thus more willing to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan."
The escalating Ukraine crisis has somehow shifted the world's focus to Europe, but the humanitarian crisis and aid vacuum facing Afghanistan has not lessened with less attention.
The UN has launched a $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in 2022. However, only 13 percent has been funded so far. Britain on Wednesday pledged 286 million pounds ($374 million) for life-saving food and other aid for Afghanistan, Reuters said.
"Through these two days of diplomatic meetings, China has shown the world that it is playing its part as a responsible power to unite all parties and remind them that 'Ukraine matters, but don't forget Afghanistan which matters as well,'" Zhu said.
Procession with progression
The China-hosted third Foreign Ministers' Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan witnessed the first-time attendance of the Afghan Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
Experts said Afghanistan's participation will improve communication and understanding with its neighbors and it will also help implement the consensus reached on issues such as counterterrorism, security, government inclusion, and humanitarian assistance.
"The reality that the Taliban is in power in Afghanistan needs to be faced. If the international community isolates the country and does not have dialogue with its interim government for a long time, how can it bring positive influence and better guide the country to return to the mainstream?" Qian said.
In the eight-point consensus released after the meeting, countries agreed to launch the mechanism for regular meetings of special envoys to Afghanistan's neighboring countries, establish three working groups on political diplomacy, economy, humanitarian affairs and security and stability.
Experts said although the talks have released positive signals and although the situation in Afghanistan has gradually improved over the past six months and more, the US has left too many long-standing problems in the past 20 years to truly solve the Afghan issue through policy coordination at the macro level. Therefore, the establishment of the above mechanism and working group is precise and crucial.
To promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban and the international community need to find a way forward step by step, Qian said.
On the one hand, according to Qian, the Afghan Taliban needs to face up to the calls regarding counterterrorism, inclusive government and other issues; on the other hand, the international community should give priority to helping resolve the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and then gradually increase exchanges and cooperation.
And the key is how Washington will implement its specific responsibilities, Qian said.
The US, which has left Afghanistan with an economic and social mess, cannot just walk away and leave the problem to Afghanistan and its neighbors, which may further affect peace and stability in Asia, Zhu said, explaining why all regional countries' call on the US to unfreeze $7 billion Afghan assets is reasonable.
Compared with previous foreign ministers' meetings, which put more emphasis on security and stability, the meeting also focused on Afghanistan's economic development, and called on international financial institutions to actively inject liquidity into Afghanistan, Qian said. "Afghanistan's future needs to be integrated into the regional economic development."
China is the most trusted power in Afghanistan as China has never interfered or invaded Afghanistan, analysts said. According to local media outlets, Afghanistan has expressed great interest in seeking to link up with the Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI).
People in Afghanistan see China's influence and economic power, as well as the remarkable achievements of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). And the Taliban hope that the further extension of CPEC will inject impetus into Afghanistan's economy, society and livelihood, which has been languishing for years, Qian said.
China is willing to make the BRI more beneficial to its neighbors, but both China and Afghanistan know that a stable investment and business environment is indispensable for any major economic joint initiative, said Qian. "China does not exclude cooperation with Afghanistan, but it needs to be done when the time is right."