The Taliban has welcomed Zhao Sheng as China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan during a lavish ceremony held at the presidential palace in Kabul on Wednesday.
China is among a handful of countries, including Pakistan, Iran and Russia that have maintained a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan since the Taliban retook control of the country in 2021.
In the palace ceremony, Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund shook hands with Zhao and “accepted the credentials of the new Chinese Ambassador,” the prime minister’s office said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“The Honorable Prime Minister of the Islamic Emirate thanked the leadership of China for the appointment of Mr Zhao Sheng as ambassador and expressed hope that this appointment would elevate the diplomatic relations between the two countries to a higher level and the beginning of a new chapter,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in the statement
According to the prime minister’s office, Zhao said that China was “a good neighbor of Afghanistan” and “fully respects Afghanistan’s independence, territorial integrity and independence in decision-making.”
Zhao added that China does not have a policy of interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and it does not want Afghanistan “to become its area of influence.”
The Taliban prime minister said relations between the two countries had “been on a good level” and “expressed his hope for taking more steps to further strengthen the bilateral relations,” according to Mujahid.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement the appointment was the “normal rotation of China’s ambassador to Afghanistan” and was “intended to continue advancing dialogue and cooperation” between the two countries, according to Reuters.
The ministry said, “China’s policy toward Afghanistan is clear and consistent.”
CNN has reached out to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
China, a neighbor of Afghanistan with substantial investment in the region, was cautious about the potential security challenges posed by the abrupt return of the Taliban following the US withdrawal in August 2021.
Since then, Chinese officials have stressed increasing cooperation with Afghanistan, along with other regional neighbors, on issues such as anti-terrorism cooperation, “economic collaboration” and boosting “regional stability and development.”
In May, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan vowed to strengthen trilateral ties on security and counterterrorism at a meeting of the three country’s foreign ministers in Islamabad.
Speaking at that meeting, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang said China attached “great importance to the friendship with Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Notably from the meeting, the three sides agreed to cooperate on China’s Belt and Road trade and infrastructure program, through which China has heavily invested in the region.
They also agreed to forge closer economic ties by extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan “so as to promote connectivity, improve cross-border trading, enhance the economic integration of the three countries and achieve sustainable development.”
CPEC is a $60 billion Belt and Road flagship project that links China’s western Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with a network of roads, railways, pipelines and power plants.