The Taliban's rapid return to power in Afghanistan 20 years after it was toppled by the United States may prompt China to put more emphasis on relations with Japan, which have been frayed by several issues, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

China has been trying to cozy up to the Islamist group, as it has been keen to prevent the Taliban's takeover from cheering on separatist forces in its mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang that shares a border with Afghanistan.

City workers (in orange) clean up garbage left by people who scrambled to Afghanistan's international airport in Kabul on Aug. 17, 2021, two days after the Taliban swept into the capital. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping has also been attempting to bolster its clout in Afghanistan to push ahead with its cherished goal of the "Belt and Road" project to develop infrastructure and trade across Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Some foreign affairs experts say China sees the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as a good chance to undermine Washington's influence in the region.

In reality, however, Beijing wants U.S. troops to continue staying in Afghanistan, given that security in the country and the surrounding area has been maintained for two decades due largely to Washington's military deployment, diplomatic sources said.

While China is expected to be compelled to grapple with possible further turmoil in Afghanistan after U.S.-led forces withdraw, it believes cooperation of the administration of President Joe Biden would be essential for stability in Central Asia, they said.

As its ties with the United States have been deteriorating, China also hopes that Japan, its neighbor and one of the closest U.S. security allies in the world, would act as an intermediator between the world's two major powers, the sources added.

Beijing has been "very concerned" that confusion in Afghanistan would provoke terrorism in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where many Muslims who oppose growing state surveillance have been detained under the "reeducation" campaign, one of the sources said.

China has been at odds with Japan recently over matters such as its alleged human rights abuses in the far western region as well as its security challenges with Taiwan, but it might "extend an olive branch" to its neighbor to "avoid any revolt" in Xinjiang, he said.

The Communist-led government has been making efforts to get along with Afghanistan, while tensions have been increasing between Chinese authorities and the local Muslim population in Xinjiang.

In late July, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks in Tianjin with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political chief of the Taliban, before it declared victory in Afghanistan by taking control of the capital Kabul earlier this month.

During the meeting, Wang called on the Taliban to "draw a clear line" from terrorist groups to "remove obstacles and create favorable conditions for regional peace, stability and development," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Xinhua quoted Baradar as saying the Taliban would "absolutely not allow any forces to do anything harmful to China."

Beijing also has expressed hope that the Taliban will establish a political structure that would lay the foundation for lasting peace in Afghanistan, effectively accepting its takeover of the nation.

The Taliban's resurgence came just weeks before Biden's target date for completing its troop drawdown to bring an end to what is known as "the longest war in U.S. history" following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida.

Although China has lambasted the Biden administration for its hasty withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, some pundits said China has not revealed its real intentions.

Ichiro Korogi, an expert in Chinese politics at Kanda University of International Studies near Tokyo, said in a TV program that China "does not want U.S. troops to have influence in Afghanistan, but does not want chaos to lead to terrorism more."

"China must want the United States to send its troops back to Afghanistan," he added.

In his telephone conversation in mid-August with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Wang said China is "willing to communicate" with the United States to "promote the realization of a soft landing on the Afghan issue."

China's foreign minister, meanwhile, urged Washington to play a constructive role in helping rebuild peace in Afghanistan.

The Global Times, a tabloid of the Chinese Communist Party, also said, "Whether Beijing will collaborate with Washington in the spheres where the latter needs the help of China, depends on how the U.S. will act around China."

An Asian diplomat said China has been leaning toward working together with the United States for stability in the region, shrugging off speculation that Beijing would use Afghanistan as a "bargaining chip" in diplomacy with Washington.

China has "made huge investment" in central Asia through the Belt and Road initiative, regarding Afghanistan as a "key relay point" of what it touts as a modern Silk Road economic zone, the diplomat said.

Beijing, therefore, has become "seriously worried" that a large amount of money may be passed to terrorist groups inspired by the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan, which would "threaten its strategic interests and jeopardize Xinjiang," he said.

"To avert the worst-case scenario, China would strive to deepen cooperation with the United States over the Afghan issue and for that purpose, it might not take action that could hurt relations with Japan further," the diplomat said.

"China is likely to manage a well-balanced diplomatic strategy toward Japan for the time being," he added.

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