KABUL (Reuters) - A Taliban delegation met China’s special representative for Afghanistan in Beijing to discuss the group’s peace talks with the United States, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgency said.
The meeting, on Sunday, comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s 11th-hour cancellation earlier this month of negotiations with the Taliban, which many had hoped would pave the way to a broader peace deal with the Afghan government and ending an 18-year war.
The Taliban’s nine-member delegation traveled to Beijing and met Deng Xijun, China’s special representative for Afghanistan, said Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan group’s spokesman in Qatar, on his official Twitter account on Sunday.
Qatar was where the Taliban and the United States held peace talks over the past year.
“The Chinese special representative said the U.S.-Taliban deal is a good framework for the peaceful solution of the Afghan issue and they support it,” Shaheen wrote.
Mullah Baradar, the Taliban delegation’s leader, said they had held a dialogue and reached a “comprehensive deal”, Shaheen tweeted.
“Now, if the U.S. president cannot stay committed to his words and breaks his promise, then he is responsible for any kind of distraction and bloodshed in Afghanistan,” Baradar said, according to Shaheen.
Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed that Baradar and several of his assistants came to China for exchanges in recent days.
“China’s relevant foreign ministry official exchanged opinions with Baradar regarding the situation in Afghanistan and promoting Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process,” Geng said.
Afghanistan will this coming week hold its fourth presidential elections since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban from power in 2001.
Those elections have gained importance since the collapse of the peace talks, as the negotiations could have led to the creation of an interim government, now a more distant prospect.
In June, before the peace talks fell apart, another Taliban team went to China to meet with the government.
At the time, a foreign ministry spokesman said China supported Afghans resolving their problems themselves through talks, and the visit was an important part of China promoting such peace talks.
China’s far western region of Xinjiang shares a short border with Afghanistan.
China has long worried about links between militant groups and what it says are Islamist extremists operating in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur people, who speak a Turkic language.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday called on all countries to resist China’s demands to repatriate ethnic Uighurs, saying Beijing’s campaign in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang was an “attempt to erase its own citizens”.
Geng said Pompeo had slandered China, and that its policies in Xinjiang were fundamentally no different than what other countries had done to guard against extremism and terrorism.
U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million Uighurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the remote Xinjiang region.
China, a close ally of Pakistan, has been deepening its economic and political ties with Kabul and is also using its influence to try to bring the two uneasy neighbors closer.
Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alex Richardson