BEIJING: Chinese leader Xi Jinping issued strong backing for Afghanistan at a regional conference on Thursday, while making no mention of human rights abuses by the country’s Taliban leaders.

China’s foreign minister, meanwhile, led calls for the US to unfreeze Afghan assets held abroad and end sanctions on the government.

Xi pledged Chinas support in a message to a gathering of representatives from Afghanistan, China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in a central Chinese city, spotlighting Beijing’s aspirations to play a leading role in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US forces last August.

A peaceful, stable, developed and prosperous Afghanistan is what Afghans aspire to, which serves the common interests of regional countries and the international community, Xi said.

Regional conference’s joint statement notes importance of ensuring women’s rights, children’s education

“China has all along respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and is committed to supporting Afghanistan’s peaceful and stable development,” Xi said in his message to the gathering in Tunxi, a centre of the tourism industry in Anhui province.

A joint statement issued after the meeting noted the importance of ensuring women’s rights and children’s education and protecting the rights of all ethnic groups. It also urged the countries mainly responsible for the current predicament in Afghanistan” to fulfil their commitments on its economic recovery.

China’s foreign ministry said the sides agreed that the US and Nato should earnestly assume the primary responsibility for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, and return the property of the Afghan people as soon as possible,” in a reference to the $7 billion in frozen Afghan assets held by the US.

President Joe Biden has said his administration will unfreeze $3.5bn of those funds for families of 9/11 victims against the strenuous protests of the Taliban and others.

In his comments, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued Beijing’s attacks on the US over its handling of Afghanistan, saying that as the initiator of Afghanistan’s predicament, “Washington should take the major responsibility”, end its unilateral sanctions on the country and unconditionally return Afghanistan’s state assets.

“Afghanistan has achieved certain partial results” in boosting stability, improving livelihoods, and protecting human rights, Wang said, despite widespread reports of abuses and incompetent governance under the Taliban.

However, Afghanistan has a long way to go to achieve lasting peace, sustainable development and to advance its foreign relations, he said.

Neither Xi or Wang gave specifics on future Chinese assistance, although China has already shipped emergency aid to Afghanistan and is seeking to develop copper mining there.

Separately, Wang also attended a meeting of special envoys for Afghanistan from China, the United States and Russia, a group known as the Extended Troika. At that forum, Wang again called for an end to unreasonable sanctions and the unfreezing of Afghan assets, saying the US should take practical steps on those matters.

Although it has yet to recognise the Taliban government, China has moved quickly to shore up its ties with the radical group.

A month before the Taliban took power, Wang hosted a high-powered delegation from the group for a July 28, 2021, meeting in the Chinese port city of Tianjin. He referred to the group as pivotal force important to peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2022

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