Photo: Abdul Qahar Balkhi via X

China’s Xi Receives Taliban Ambassador’s Credentials, Hinting at Recognition

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – The Taliban authorities in Afghanistan announced that the President of China, Xi Jinping, has officially accepted the letter of credence from their appointed ambassador in Beijing.

In a social media post on Tuesday, January 30, the spokesperson of the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, said that President Xi, upon accepting the letter of credence from Assadullah Bilal Karimi, welcomed him as the Ambassador to China and extended wishes for success in his tenure.

The appointment of Mr. Karimi as the Taliban’s ambassador to China in December 2023, made China the first country to formally accept a Taliban ambassador since the group took control.

In other instances, in which the group had managed to take over diplomatic posts from the republic government it deposed, the Taliban usually appointed a diplomat already present in the country, avoiding potential backlashes and restrictions around deploying new envoys from Kabul.

The appointment of Mr. Karimi, however, was a step forward towards more conventional diplomatic ties with the region, which has shown more willingness in normalizing relationships with the unrecognized regime in Kabul.

Karimi, who served as the Taliban’s deputy spokesman since 2021, was the first Taliban diplomat who was sent from Kabul to assume a senior posting abroad.

Although China has not yet officially recognized the Taliban, it has normalized full diplomatic relations with the group more than any other country.

Last year in September, China appointed a new ambassador to Afghanistan, marking the first time a foreign envoy had  been sent to an embassy under the Taliban.  Ambassador Zhao Sheng presented his letter of credence to the Taliban’s prime minister, Mohammad Hassan Akhund. Other countries, in contrast, either maintained their existing ambassadors or assigned charge d’affaires, eliminating the need to present credentials to the Taliban.

Although the Chinese government did not indicate at the time whether the move was a sign of wider relations such as a formal recognition, Taliban authorities celebrated it as a step forward in their acceptance by the outside world.

The Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told The Associated Press at the time that the decision by Beijing  “signals to other countries to come forward and interact with the Islamic Emirate.” 

After the news of a new Chinese ambassador in Kabul made headlines, In a statement the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement calling the appointment of a new ambassador as a normal procedure “to continue advancing dialogue and cooperation between China and Afghanistan.”  

Many neighboring and regional countries have kept their embassies operational or reopened diplomatic missions since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. India, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan are among the countries that have kept or reopened their diplomatic missions in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

The official recognition of the Taliban ambassador in Beijing comes after the Chinese government   invited Taliban delegates to its global Belt and Road Forum in October last year, marking the first high-profile multilateral gathering the Taliban have attended since returning to power.

The Taliban consistently complain about the lack of official recognition, given that they do not possess Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations. The seat is currently retained by officials from the former government.

Although Mr. Karimi officially presented his credentials along with 41 other ambassadors on Monday, he has been leading Afghanistan’s embassy in Beijing since his appointment in December. The embassy was handed over to the Chinese authorities after the republic’s ambassador, Javid Ahmad Qaem, left China in January 2022, one of the first heads of mission to vacate his post following the collapse of government in August 2021.

According to the Taliban’s spokesman, Mr. Karimi also met during the introduction ceremony with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi.