Wuhan redux? China looks to engage India on Afghan affairs

In a first, the Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong, visited India this week to discuss the situation in the Taliban ruled country. This was the second significant bilateral visit by either side, after foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit in March this year, since the June 2020 Galwan military clash that had the bilateral ties tailspinning into a new low.
According to official sources, the visit by Yue is significant as it’s an acknowledgement by Beijing, despite its close ties with Pakistan, that India is an important stakeholder in Afghanistan. China had proposed the visit by Yue.
Yue held discussions with MEA joint secretary J P Singh – who handles Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran – and later said the 2 sides agreed to “encourage engagement, enhance dialogue and give positive energy for Afghan peace and stability.” The visit also took place in the middle of China’s renewed tensions with the US on Taiwan.
Wang had in late March visited India for a meeting with his counterpart S Jaishankar. The visit by Yue follows repeated claims by China that there is forward momentum in ties, with troop disengagement complete at many friction points in eastern Ladakh, even though India continues to maintain that ties will normalise only after disengagement is effected at all friction points.
In the meeting, India and China discussed issues related to the plight of women and children, humanitarian assistance and, importantly for India, terrorism. Both sides agreed that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to be used for promoting terrorism against countries in the region. While India’s concerns are about the activities of India-focused terror groups like JeM and LeT, China is focused more on ETIM which is active in the restive Xinjiang province.
While there has been no bilateral visit from India, Jaishankar has been meeting Wang at multilateral events to address the situation in eastern Ladakh and in June this year, following a meeting between Wang and Indian ambassador Pradeep Rawat, the Indian embassy in Beijing said in a statement the 2 sides agreed to “make full use of the opportunities provided by multilateral meetings to continue their exchange of views including between the two foreign ministers”.
It’s also worth mentioning here that India and China had been looking to work together in Afghanistan years before the Taliban returned to Kabul in August 2021. One of the big takeaways from the first Modi-Xi informal summit in April 2018, along with the “strategic guidance” to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding, was the decision to jointly work on economic projects in Afghanistan. The 2 countries followed it up with joint training of Afghan diplomats. The situation changed dramatically though because of the LAC strife in eastern Ladakh.

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