China and the Taliban, 'national humiliation' narratives, and how China negotiates with India

Welcome to today's issue of The India China Newsletter. I'll be looking at:
- China and the Taliban, and Beijing's current approach to Afghanistan
- India, China and two different tales of national humiliation
- The Party vs. Big Tech
- China signals its unlikely to ease travel restrictions anytime soon
- Reflections from a conversation with former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on his fascinating new book on how China negotiates with India

The Taliban has reached China's borders, but had a message of reassurance for Beijing. From The Wall Street Journal (partial paywall)

After seizing about one-third of Afghanistan’s districts in this summer’s offensive, the Taliban this week swept through the northeastern Badakhshan province, reaching the mountainous border with China’s Xinjiang region.

Considering the Taliban’s historical connections with Xinjiang’s Uyghur militant groups affiliated with al Qaeda, this advance would have caused alarm to Beijing in the past. These days, however, the Taliban go out of their way to assuage China’s concerns, eager to secure Beijing’s acquiescence to their rule.

“The Taliban want to show China good will,” said Qian Feng, head of research at the National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University in Beijing. “They hope that China can play a more important role, especially after America pulls out its troops.”

With the American military withdrawal nearly complete, China’s clout in the region is growing, in part through Beijing’s strategic relationship with the Taliban’s main backer, Pakistan. China is also becoming increasingly influential in the Central Asian states that border Afghanistan to the north. Aware of Beijing’s sensibilities, all these countries have long steered clear of condemning the mass incarceration of fellow Muslims in Xinjiang and other human-rights abuses there.

While the Taliban aren’t as silent on the issue, they strike a fine balance between their commitment to global Islamic causes and convincing Beijing that a Taliban government in Kabul wouldn’t threaten China’s stability. A recent U.S. intelligence assessment estimated that the current Afghan government could fall to the insurgency as soon as six months after the American pullout.

“We care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world. But what we are not going to do is interfere in China’s internal affairs,” said a senior Taliban official in Doha, Qatar, where the group’s political office is based.

Lo Kinling at the South China Morning Post on how China is looking at its close relations with Pakistan as being key in securing its interests in Afghanistan:

China has urged Pakistan to step up cooperation to contain security risks in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi also highlighted China’s pledges to help Pakistan fight Covid-19 and get its economy back on track in a speech to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Islamabad – one of Beijing’s closest partners on the international stage.

“[China and Pakistan] need to defend regional peace together. Problems in Afghanistan are practical challenges that China and Pakistan both face. China, along with Pakistan, is willing to continue support for all parties in Afghanistan to seek a political solution through dialogue and lead to ethnic reconciliation and long-lasting peace,” Wang said, according to the official statement.

“To push for the strengthening of communication between countries that have relevant interests would effectively help control the spillover of security risks in Afghanistan, and prevent the expansion of both international and regional terrorism, so that regional stability can be defended.”

Wang Yi is headed for a tour of Central Asia, Afghanistan very much on his mind (via Global Times):

As the security threats of the US military's hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan spills over to neighboring countries, Chinese foreign minister has scheduled visits to three Central Asian countries upon invitation, and will discuss with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) officials about the situation in Afghanistan.

Despite the shadow cast by Afghanistan's new situation, it propels regional countries, including China, to gaze closely into it. Analysts said there are both challenges and opportunities for China in Afghanistan's situation. By including the Afghanistan issue into the SCO agenda, not only can Beijing help further subdue the chaos left by the power vacuum in this country, but will also push ties between China and other Central Asian countries closer, they noted.

Chinese analysts suggest the SCO, which has so far been largely peripheral and limited in its ambitions, should step up and play a larger role (but colour me skeptical):

What gives the SCO an edge in solving the Afghan issue is its broad mandate, as it addresses the security, economic and human development agenda of Afghanistan, combining support for political stability, implementation of large-scale economic projects and assistance for social capital building, said Sun Zhuangzhi, executive director of Chinese Research Center of SCO.

Sun noted that it can also coordinate efforts of other international actors ranging from the specialized agencies of the United Nations to private foreign companies to small NGOs interested in specific avenues of collaboration with partners in and around Afghanistan.

A fascinating piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the 'national humiliation' narratives in China and India and how they differ, it is really worth reading in full:

The practical and moral necessity of playing down national humiliation may not be a bad thing. It makes for a less militarised society, perhaps a less authoritarian society. But India has an unresolved tension: The loud declamations of India being a Vishwaguru [world's teacher] and a new aggressive nationalism, are not signs of a new confidence. They are signs of a repressed sense of humiliation that is unable to confront its true sources…

The Economist on the latest Party vs Big Tech clash in the wake of ride-hailing company Didi's problems:

All governments worry about data privacy and monopolies, but China’s interventions signal a systematic attack on tech by the party. On July 7th Bloomberg reported that China might re-examine the use of “variable-interest entities”, a legal structure that underpins almost all foreign investment in Chinese tech. The message is clear: powerful tech firms must defer to the Communist Party, their bosses should keep quiet and foreign owners’ property rights can be violated.

Some had speculated that China, which has maintained incredibly tight international travel restrictions, might begin to open up now that the all-important Party centenary on July 1 has passed. That appears unlikely, reports the South China Morning Post, which is bad news for the thousands of students waiting to go back, and not to mention many Chinese nationals who are still overseas and can’t return (China is among few countries not allowing its own nationals to return, barring them by denying them health codes that they need from their local embassies to travel):

China has signalled it has no plans to lower its guard against Covid-19 as the threat posed by the highly transmissible Delta variant increases.

Li Bin, vice-minister of the National Health Commission, said authorities would continue to focus on preventing imported infections from spreading locally and strengthen inspection of imported goods.

“Some cities have recently seen local clusters caused by imported cases of the Delta variant, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Ruili,” he told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. “These waves have reminded us that we cannot relax our pandemic control measures.”

And finally...

Highly recommend this new book by former Indian Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale, called "The Long Game: How China Negotiates With India".

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which has fascinating insights into Chinese negotiating approaches as well as reflections on everything from India's recognition of the PRC and how that process unfolded, to widely prevalent mistaken notions about "face" (which I particularly appreciated as it busts some myths about how overused this idea is in so many writings on China - remember this piece in the Times of India by Indian writer Chetan Bhagat?).

I interviewed Gokhale about the book for The Hindu, which you can read here (partial paywall). I won’t give more away but I won’t be surprised in the least bit if this becomes a bible for anyone interested in India-China relations (and even beyond the bilateral relationship, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in China).

That’s it for this issue. Thank you for reading! Have a good weekend, and see you next week!