China could soon have an unlikely supporter in Central Asia -- the Taliban

Afghan Taliban fighters and villagers attend a gathering as they celebrate the peace deal signed between US and Taliban in Laghman Province, Alingar district on March 2, 2020.

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Hong KongOne is a government accused of detaining more than 1 million Muslims in a vast system of internment camps. The other is one of the world's strictest Islamist militant groups. Yet despite their differences, the Chinese Communist Party and the Taliban may soon find themselves working together, at least tentatively.

Following the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban is again resurgent, taking control of great swathes of the country. The speed at which Afghan security forces have lost control to the Taliban has shocked many, and led to concerns the capital Kabul could be next to fall.
The Islamist group is already planing for such a future, with a Taliban spokesman telling the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post earlier this week that China was a "welcome friend," and conversations over reconstruction should begin "as soon as possible."
    The possibility of the Chinese government cooperating with the Taliban in a post-US Afghanistan is not as unlikely as it may first appear. Afghanistan remains a key component in Beijing's long-term regional development plans. In May, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was in discussions with Islamabad and Kabul to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan, including expanding transport and trade networks between the three countries.
      Nor is China averse to dealing with the Taliban, having publicly welcomed the militant group to Beijing in September 2019 for peace talks.
      The Taliban, meanwhile, has made clear it would be willing to overlook any perceived grievances, with a spokesman telling the Wall Street Journal earlier this month the group had no interest in criticizing China over its alleged repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. "We care about the oppression of Muslims ... But what we are not going to do is interfere in China's internal affairs," he was quoted as saying.
      Pakistani senator Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute, told CNN the Taliban was more "chastened and pragmatic" than during its previous time in power, and the Islamists saw China as a "credible stakeholder" in Afghanistan. "(If they took power) they would need Chinese support for Afghanistan's stability and reconstruction. Annoying China is a recipe for disaster for the Taliban," he said.
      Any deterioration in Afghanistan's security situation would be of significant concern to Beijing too, which has invested heavily in Central Asia through its Belt and Road trade and infrastructure scheme. In recent years, Islamist militants have attacked Chinese nationals and their interests in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan. The prospect of further violence is likely to create unease in Beijing, as will the specter of homegrown Chinese militants finding sanctuary in Afghanistan's lawless border areas.
      So far, the Chinese government hasn't publicly responded to the Taliban's advances. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting Turkmenistan, Tajikstan and Uzbekistan this week, and is expected to discuss the issue of Afghanistan with his counterparts during the trip.
      However, in a widely-shared social media post, Hu Xijin, the editor of state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times, said the Taliban considered China a "friend." His newspaper, meanwhile, suggested Western media outlets were trying to ruin the Taliban's relationship with Beijing by raising questions over Xinjiang.
      "The West did not really care about Xinjiang Uyghurs' human rights. It instead hoped to sow discord between Beijing and the Taliban," the opinion piece said.
      -- Additional reporting by Sophia Saifi

      Around Asia

      • Taliban fighters executed 22 Afghan commandos as they tried to surrender on June 16, according to videos obtained and verified by CNN and witnesses' accounts. The killing stands in stark contrast to the Taliban's efforts to show it is accepting the surrender of soldiers as it makes territorial gains.
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      • In an unusual step to prevent the spread of Covid, South Korea's capital has banned fast workout music with a tempo higher than 120 beats per minute in gyms.
      • At least 65 people were killed by lightning strikes and thunderstorms in the northern Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh on Sunday.

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      Global demand for Chinese-made goods is soaring ahead of big GDP announcement

      China's export market is booming. That's alleviating some fears about whether the recovery for the world's second largest economy is losing steam ahead of a much-anticipated GDP announcement Thursday.
      Exports reached $281 billion last month in US dollar terms, up 32% from a year ago, according to Chinese customs data released Tuesday. That's the fastest rate of growth since February, and far higher than the 23% growth forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.
      The spike remains high even when compared to June 2019, before Covid-19 broke out: It's a 32% leap over that time period as well.
      The big boost to exports is good news for China, coming just before it releases GDP figures for the April-to-June quarter on Thursday.
      There have been a few troubling signs for the Chinese economy and its role in global trade recently as the cost of imported commodities surges and as supply chains have been disrupted by the temporary closure of key ports in southern China. An ongoing energy shortage in the country's important manufacturing and exports hubs has weighed on activity, too.
      Late last week, the People's Bank of China sparked even more concern about flagging growth when it said it would cut the reserve requirement ratio for most financial institutions by 50 basis points, a move that would allow banks to lend more. It was the first cut to that rate since April 2020.
        "The trade picture looks less worrying," wrote Ken Cheung, chief Asian foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank, in a Tuesday research note, adding that the firm export figures should "help contain fears" of any disappointment in the GDP data.
        -- By Laura He