China in recent months has been on a campaign to clear up the issues and divisions within their society. Cracking down on billionaires who defy party supremacy to the point of what Bloomberg has labeled a “wealth redistribution,” trying to weed out the more pernicious aspects of traditional culture including ostentatious weddings and dowries, and making overt gestures in favor of labor protections including encouraging collective bargaining, they are making an overt effort to improve the rampant inequality and exploitation that have taken hold in their hypercapitalist society.
Meanwhile, with almost total control over the party and its elites, not to mention support from the majority ethnic Han population in China after years of propaganda, thought control, media censorship, and internet controls, barring a severe crisis, threats to party rule from inside seem limited.
Their weakness is and always has been the PRC’s compulsion to act as a destabilizing force internationally, which threatens their long term interests.
Because of their past bellicosity, provocative actions, and refusal to back down in any conflict concerning interests that overlapping with others, they have surrounded themselves by enemy states.
Battles and skirmishes over border lines with the Soviet Union have made Russia a two-faced faux-friend, and India into an outright enemy. Annexation of Inner Mongolia means that Mongolia proper is hostile. Their support of North Korea’s invasion of the South including sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops to participate, not to mention their turn after decades of support of communist Vietnam to attempt to invade it in retaliation for overthrowing their ally the Khmer Rouge, shelling and threatening the destruction of Taiwan, and consistent clashes with Japan and the Philippines means that they are surrounded on nearly every side by countries with which they have poor relations or worse.
Now, as the Taliban has overrun Kabul, the terrorist organization has found an unlikely ally in China.
The PRC, which is currently engaged in an act of cultural genocide against the mostly Muslim Uighurs in the name of counter-terrorism, just a few hundred kilometers across the border, hosted the Taliban in Tianjin to discuss their future relationship prior even to the fall of Kabul.
Some have suggested that China will take a cautious approach and won’t try to seriously engage with the Taliban or stretch their Belt and Road (BRI) through the country. This assumes that China has a choice. With Uighur separatism a major concern and there being a shared border between the states, Afghanistan could remain a major destabilizing force in providing a regional center for Islamist and separatist movements, as they did under the Taliban two decades ago. In 2021, this is far more of a threat to China than to the US, despite Pakistani influence over the Taliban.
The Taliban, while maintaining de jure control over the country because of power gaps must still largely defer to local autonomy. This leaves several void zones where China likely fears terrorist bases or training camps have the potential to crystallize. Neutralizing those zones, or maintaining tight control over the entire country would not only be extremely costly both in terms of resources and military power, it may be beyond the capacity of the Taliban state without major assistance. It would not be in the interests of the Taliban to expend either their soldiers or political capital to prevent radicalization in their border regions without major concessions from the Chinese.
Thus it seems likely that to achieve the twin aims of passing the BRI through the country, and stabilizing it against becoming a hotbed of political activity that could seep right across the border into Xinjiang, they will engage heavily with the Taliban, and may themselves become enmired in the graveyard of civilizations.
Allying themselves with the Taliban, and tying themselves to such an unstable and theocratic regime, may lead to unfathomable consequences.
Besides the threat of nuclear proliferation that will instantly become engaged should they attempt major military action in the West Pacific, their foreign policy engagements, like so many of those practiced by other superpowers such as America, may carry burdens that far outweigh the benefits.
For reasons beyond their control, it seems though that they have little choice but to engage with the Taliban in a way which may threaten the long term stability of their country.
Staff writer: Ari B