Tentative progress at China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/28 18:38:40

When Western countries celebrated Christmas, a diplomatic activity that concerns the stability of Central and South Asia took place in Beijing. On Tuesday, the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue was held in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif attended the meeting and had a joint press release.

According to China's foreign ministry, the three foreign ministers all held a positive attitude to the dialogue and agreed to work together on political mutual trust and reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity, security cooperation and counter-terrorism as three topics of the trilateral cooperation.

Wang came up with four goals of the dialogue, namely supporting the peace reconstruction and reconciliation efforts of Afghanistan; assisting Afghanistan and Pakistan in improving their relations; promoting common security of the three countries and the region at large; and advancing regional connectivity and cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative.

Joe Mcdonald and Munir Ahmed from the Associated Press said, "The talks reflected Beijing's efforts to expand its political and diplomatic role in the region. Chinese leaders also are uneasy about the potential for militant activity in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central Asia to spill across the border into China's Muslim northwest."

In fact, such an opinion is no more than a platitude because China has already reached that goal by means of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In combination with the Belt and Road initiative and the infrastructure projects finished or underway, China's influence in Central and South Asia has already transformed.

In Central and South Asia, the frozen relationship between Kabul and Islamabad is a well-known problem, which is the priority of China's intensive diplomacy. In June, Wang visited both countries and reached five core consensuses including the mechanism for the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue.

Of course the dialogue can help with China in building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and promoting the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. China also wants to establish this triangular mechanism, or plus Tajikistan, to guarantee regional stability.

Considering Moscow's feeling and the urgent need to solve the grudge between Afghanistan and Pakistan, currently Tajikistan is just a participant in the regional counter-terrorism coordination mechanism.

But in the future, at regional level, the reconciliation process in Afghanistan cannot develop well without the participation of Tajikistan and even Uzbekistan.

With China's coordination, Pakistan already brought up an action plan to restore its relationship with Afghanistan before the trilateral dialogue. The plan suggests the two countries establish five working groups to deal with pressing issues in politics, economics, the military, intelligence and refugees.

The Afghan foreign minister did not give a direct response, but showed willingness to strengthen bilateral cooperation against common threats. His attitude reveals the foundation of the trilateral dialogue remains vulnerable, partly because of the US and Indian stances.

India has opposed the establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and Afghanistan is India's geopolitical partner as well as its strategic gateway to Central Asia.

As Afghanistan's fifth-largest sponsor, India has provided more than $3 billion in aid to the country. The US is the Afghan government's most important anti-terrorism partner and also India's strategic partner.

US President Donald Trump's administration always accuses Pakistan of being the shield for Afghan militants and has the intention of sanctioning Islamabad. Under such complicated circumstances, the prime need for China's diplomacy is not expanding regional clout, but addressing urgent regional issues, hence the trilateral dialogue that well serves Chinese national interests.

The author is deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Research Center affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn.


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