The new Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing, presented his credentials to the Taliban’s prime minister, Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund, on Wednesday.
China is the first country to formally appoint a new ambassador-level envoy since the Taliban retook control of the country in August 2021 following the withdrawal of US troops. The Taliban government is not officially recognized by authorities in any other country, and it was not immediately clear whether the appointment means that Beijing has become the first to do so.
“Mohammed Hassan Akhund, the prime minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, accepted the credentials of Mr. Zhao Xing, the new Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan, during a ceremony,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman.
“The Prime Minister of the Islamic Emirate thanked the leadership of China for appointing Mr. Zhao Xing as ambassador and expressed the hope that his appointment will lead to the promotion of diplomatic relations to a high level and the beginning of a new chapter between the two countries.”
China has actively engaged with the Taliban regime on a number of levels since they came to power, including on investment and infrastructure projects.
Afghan and Chinese railway authorities signed an accord with their counterparts in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan last year to create an economic corridor between their countries, which the Afghan government expects will boost trade and connectivity.
In January, privately run oil company Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas signed a contract to extract oil from the Amu Darya basin, part of which lies in Afghanistan. It was the first major extraction deal the Taliban had signed with a foreign company since regaining power.
Under the contract, the oil company will invest $150 million a year in Afghanistan, increasing to $540 million within three years, as part of a 25-year agreement. The project will provide employment for about 3,000 Afghans, the Taliban said.
While many countries closed their embassies in Kabul after the Taliban seized power, China was one of the few that maintained a diplomatic presence. Some ambassadors appointed by their nations while the previous, foreign-backed Afghan government was in power remained in Kabul.
China’s previous ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, took up his position in 2019 and his tenure ended last month.
“The prime minister called the relations between Afghanistan and China important,” Mujahid said. “(He) expressed hope that more steps will be taken to strengthen bilateral relations.”
Abdul Waheed Waheed, an international relations expert in Kabul who has worked with the International Rescue Committee, told Arab News that the appointment of the ambassador represented an “important success” for the Taliban.
He said that it “does not necessarily indicate full diplomatic recognition but it certainly is a significant development” and added: “Economic reasons certainly play a significant role in China’s engagement in Afghanistan, but the Chinese government’s approach is multifaceted, encompassing both economic and strategic interests.”