Ian Johnson

China has been talking informally to the Taliban, but now the Islamic group has taken over neighboring Afghanistan, the situation is more tricky, says CFR-scholar Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao to CNB


The relationship between China and the Islamist militant group is “tricky” because Beijing targets what it calls religious extremism among ethnic minority Muslims in Xinjiang, said Ian Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations…

Xinjiang is home to the minority Uyghur Muslims. The United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have accused China of human rights abuses including forced labor and large-scale detentions in Xinjiang. Beijing denies those claims.

“If they have an Islamist political party that is … running a neighboring country, that could be, potentially, a problem for China,” said Johnson, who is the CFR’s Stephen A. Schwarzman senior fellow for China studies.

“At least optically, it seems kind of weird that, on the one hand, Beijing … would be willing to work with [the Taliban]. On the other hand, Islamist groups in Xinjiang are such a problem,” he told CNBC…

China has “laid the groundwork” and made preparations to work with the Taliban, but it’s difficult to predict whether Beijing will formally recognize them as Afghanistan’s government, said Johnson of the CFR, adding that Western countries may not want anyone to affirm the Taliban.

“It may take a little bit of time,” he said. Beijing “might want to see assurances that the Taliban is going to be ‘a normal government’ and not … have massacres and massive killings or something like that before they give them formal diplomatic recognition.”…

For now, unlike many other governments who have moved to evacuate embassy staff from Afghanistan, China’s ambassador remains in Kabul. A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office reportedly said the group would not target diplomatic missions in the country.

It’s smart of China to take this approach, which signals that Beijing is not scared, taking sides or running away from the Taliban, said Johnson.

More at CNBC.

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