China hosts Russian, US officials at same table, urges Washington to return Afghan assets, lift sanctions
Published: Mar 31, 2022 11:22 PM
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday in Tunxi, East China's Anhui Province. Photo: Chinese Foreign Ministry

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday in Tunxi, East China's Anhui Province. Photo: Chinese Foreign Ministry

 Two key meetings on the Afghan situation convened in China's Anhui Province on Thursday, with one, the Troika Plus meeting, the first occasion where representatives from Russia and the US sat together since the start of the Ukraine crisis. Observers said that while global attention has been diverted to Eastern Europe, China, with diplomatic efforts, pushed crucial parties to help solve the problems of Afghans and offered a platform for major powers to seek cooperation in certain fields despite frictions in others.

Along with the third Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan's Neighboring Countries in Tunxi, East China's Anhui Province, envoys and special representatives from China, the US, Russia and Pakistan also gathered for another meeting, the Troika Plus. The meeting attracted international attention as it is the first time for representatives from the US and Russia to sit at the same table since the Russia-Ukraine crisis started. 

While meeting with the foreign representatives on Thursday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed hope for countries to seek common ground while putting aside differences to practically help the people of Afghanistan. 

China, Russia, the US and Pakistan are the crucial parties that have important interests on Afghanistan issues. Each party has its own advantages and they can do a lot of things if they work together. The Troika Plus mechanism has played a constructive role in helping with Afghanistan's peaceful transition, Wang Yi said while meeting with the envoys and representatives to the Troika Plus meeting. 

He also expressed some hope for the future work of the mechanism, including calling for concrete actions of the US to unfreeze assets of Afghanistan, revoking sanctions, and exploring ways to solve key issues. 

An online petition launched in February by the Global Times demanding the US unconditionally return the life-saving money to Afghans received more than 421,948 signatures by Thursday, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson previously said fully reflected that the theft of the Afghan assets by the US has sparked strong outrage. 

Wang's remarks represent China's principles on Afghan issues. China not only hopes the Troika Plus mechanism can play a role in the Afghan issues, but also wants to encourage major powers to play a positive role in other issues. China has always stressed that whether the mechanism is hosted by China or not, it should be an open and diverse mechanism that other countries can participate in to help solve problems, Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Yue Xiaoyong, China's Special Envoy on Afghan Affairs who hosted the Troika Plus meeting on Thursday, also noted that it was meaningful to have the meeting alongside the foreign ministers' meeting between Afghanistan's neighboring counties, and the countries are willing to urge the international community to pay more attention to Afghan issues and play a constructive role in realizing peaceful rebuilding in Afghanistan. 

The acting foreign minister of the Afghan interim government Amir Khan Muttaqi arrived in Tunxi for the meeting with neighboring countries on the same day. The foreign ministers of Indonesia and Qatar were invited to join as special guests. 

The smooth convening of the Troika Plus meeting and other meetings at the current stage reflects the common concerns of China, Russia and the US on Afghan issues, and also showcases China's influence and its care for the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, Zhu said. 

The last Troika Plus meeting was hosted by Pakistan in November 2021 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Yue led a delegation to the meeting. 

The expert said it is not easy for China to arrange these meetings. US and Russian representatives sat at one table for a meeting despite the Ukraine crisis, and Taliban representatives also attended another meeting on the same day, which showcases China's capability in diplomatic mediation, Zhu said. 

This Troika Plus meeting also showed the complexity and multifaceted nature of major-country relations. Even if the US and Russia have conflicts in one region, they can still cooperate in another region. When it comes to issues concerning the security and stability of three or more countries and even the whole world, the big powers can still negotiate with each other, be it China or the US or Russia, Zhu said, noting that such a mechanism offers the world a new model for major powers.

A US State Department spokesperson noted that Tom West is the US special representative for Afghanistan to attend the meeting, Reuters reported. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov led a delegation to Tunxi but he did not participate in the Troika Plus meeting. Lavrov attended the foreign ministers' meeting of the neighboring countries and had talks with Wang. 

Holding the Troika Plus in China underscores China's unique role in promoting world peace through diplomacy. While the US and the West are focusing on the Russia-Ukraine conflicts and the global attention has been diverted to related issues, China is using its own way to coordinate with related parties to ease tensions and tell the world that there are more issues and there are other places that have been messed up by the US that should be paid attention to, Li Weijian, a research fellow with the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, and vice president of the Chinese Association of Middle East Studies, told the Global Times.

The US may feel reluctant to cooperate with China and Russia, but it should return the withheld assets to Afghanistan which is what the international community has called on the US to do. "The US cannot claim it cares about the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine while doing nothing about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan," Li said.