Last week, Xu Qiliang, the vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, hosted Afghanistan’s minister of defense, Tariq Shah Bahrami, in Beijing. The meeting underlined the increasingly close military-to-military ties between the two countries.
According to Chinese state media, Xu undelined Afghanistan’s friendship with China and noted that “in recent years, bilateral relations have maintained a good momentum of development with increasingly close high-level exchanges and continuously enhanced strategic communication.”
“China supports the peace reconstruction and reconciliation process of Afghanistan and will actively participate in international aid efforts in Afghanistan,” Xu additionally noted.
Xu and Bahrami resolved to “deepen pragmatic cooperation in various fields including anti-terrorism operations, and push forward the state and military relations between the two countries,” according to a Chinese state media report, paraphrasing Bahrami’s remarks in Beijing. Early last year, China denied that the People’s Liberation Army had started conducting patrols on Afghan soil.
Following the formal end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 and the Obama administration’s subsequent gradual troop drawdown, China took a greater interest in security affairs in Afghanistan. Beijing has long been concerned with militant groups using Afghan soil to stage attacks within China—particularly in the restive province of Xinjiang, where Uighur separatist groups are a concern for Beijing.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Astana, Kazakhstan, last year, he underlined that the two countries should endeavor to increase their counter-terrorism cooperation. Under Xi’s landmark Belt and Road Initiative, China has continued to expand its trade and investment footprint in Afghanistan.
Xu’s meeting in Beijing with Bahrami came days after China also hosted the foreign ministers of both Afghanistan and Pakistan for a first-ever trilateral meeting. Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif joined their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing for that meeting, where terrorism was a major focus. Several senior Afghan officials have criticized Pakistan for failing to take action against terror groups that use its soil to plan attacks across the border in Afghanistan.