“China is our main partner and represents for us a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity because it is willing to invest and rebuild our country,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Sept. 1.
Mujahid made the remarks as the militant group, which took over Afghanistan in dramatic fashion last month, celebrated the final withdrawal of American troops from the country, putting an end to a 20-year-long conflict.
But money has become a pressing concern for the Taliban after the United States blocked the group from accessing billions of Afghan assets held in U.S. bank accounts, while the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have each suspended funding to Afghanistan.
With cash running short, the Taliban appears to place its bet on Beijing, which in recent days have signaled readiness to build ties with the group—although it has yet to formally recognize the Taliban regime.
Mujahid said the Taliban was “very keen” on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a billion-dollar infrastructure project championed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that aims to expand the regime’s economic and political clout worldwide. While Afghanistan is a formal member of BRI, no projects have started under the plan.
The spokesperson also referenced China’s currently dormant investment in a copper mine development project in the country. “We also have rich copper mines that, thanks to the Chinese, will be able to come back to life and be modernized,” Mujahid said.
China, he added, “is our gateway to markets around the world.”
The Taliban expressed further enthusiasm for BRI involvement in a call with assistant Chinese foreign minister Wu Jianghao on Sept. 2.
In the call, Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior member in the Taliban negotiating team, called China “Afghanistan’s trustworthy friend,” according to a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry.
Hanafi expressed a wish to “actively support and participate” in the BRI project that he said will “contribute to the region’s prosperity.”
To foster Afghanistan-China friendship, Hanafi vowed that the Taliban “will absolutely not allow any forces to threaten Chinese interests,” an implicit reference to Uyghur militants who Beijing fear may launch assaults into Xinjiang, a region bordering Afghanistan where Beijing has locked up to more than 1 million ethnic Muslim minorities in internment camps.
By Eva Fu