China has said that it will not charge tariffs on 98 percent of goods being imported from Afghanistan, in an apparent bid to boost bilateral trade ties as Afghanistan's Taliban rulers struggle to revive the country's sanctions-hit economy nearly a year after taking power.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi conveyed the decision to his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in bilateral talks the two officials held Thursday on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Uzbekistan.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry released details of the meeting Friday.
“China will grant zero tariff treatment to 98 percent of the tariff lines of the Afghan products exported to China and is willing to import more quality specialty products from Afghanistan,” the statement quoted Wang as saying.
Afghanistan is not a major exporter to China, though China has imported some Afghan pine nuts and other goods in what it characterized as an effort to relieve the Afghan people’s difficulties.
No country has officially recognized the Taliban’s rule since the Islamist group took over Afghanistan last August, when the Western-backed government collapsed and the final U.S.-led foreign troops abruptly withdrew from the country.
China has openly supported the Taliban, however, and is among the countries that have kept open their embassies in Kabul since the Taliban takeover. Wang visited Kabul recently and has urged other countries to increase engagement with the Taliban.
Countries demand inclusivity
The international community, particularly Western countries, have been pressing the Islamist rulers to ease restrictions on women’s access to work, allow girls to resume secondary school education and govern the country through an inclusive system before recognizing the Taliban government.
The United States and other Western governments blocked Kabul’s access to around $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets, mostly held in the U.S.; suspended financial assistance; and isolated Afghanistan's banking sector after the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15, 2021.
The curbs have hurt Afghanistan’s war-shattered economy and worsened an already bad humanitarian crisis in the country, where financial aid from foreign governments and organizations accounted for two-thirds of the government’s budget expenditure.
The hardline group defends its governance as representative of all Afghans, saying its rules restricting women’s rights are in line with Afghan culture and Sharia, or Islamic law.
In his statement Friday, Wang said China hopes Afghanistan can build a “broad-based and inclusive government and exercise moderate and prudent governance … and actively respond to the concerns of the international community and gain more understanding and recognition.”
He urged the United States and other Western countries to remove “unreasonable” sanctions on Afghanistan and help with the country’s economic reconstruction after decades of war.
The Biden administration is talking with the Taliban to address economic challenges facing the Afghan people and unfreeze half of the $7 billion under U.S. control to benefit the Afghan people. The rest would be held for terrorism-related lawsuits in U.S. courts against the Taliban.
But the Taliban want all of the funds unblocked, saying they are the property of the Afghan nation.
Accent on humanitarian issues
The latest round of talks on the frozen funds took place Wednesday in Tashkent. A post-meeting State Department statement said the United States expressed the need to address the urgent humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
“The two sides discussed ongoing efforts to enable the $3.5 billion in licensed Afghan central bank reserves to be used for the benefit of the Afghan people. The United States underscored the need to accelerate the work on these efforts.”
Wang renewed China’s demands that the Taliban take “resolute measures to crack down” on all terrorist forces on Afghan soil, including the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which Beijing lists as a terrorist group. He also announced that Beijing would resume August 1 the issuance of visas for Afghan citizens to enter China.
The statement quoted Amir Khan Muttaqi as telling Wang that the Taliban would never allow Afghan territory to be used for anti-China activities and would resolutely combat drug-related activities.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after attending the SCO meeting in Tashkent, told reporters that Moscow was continuing its engagement with the Taliban but wanted them to meet their international pledges before seeking legitimacy for their rule.
“We work with the government in Afghanistan. We recognize it as a reality on the ground. We have our embassy, which never left Kabul,” said Lavrov, referring to the relocation of all the Western embassies to Qatar following the Taliban takeover.
“But the government of Afghanistan for the legal recognition needs to deliver on what it proclaimed when it was taking power, namely that they would be creating an inclusive government, not only inclusive from the ethnic point of view but also from the political point of view,” Russia’s chief diplomat said.