The facts: On March 30-31, China hosted a series of meetings related to the situation in Afghanistan. Along with other diplomatic signaling, this is just the latest in a list of international outreach activities by Foreign Minister Wang Yi aimed at demonstrating that China is not alone in its position on the war in Ukraine and its opposition to the western-dominated global order.
The meetings included a trilateral China-Afghanistan-Pakistan foreign ministers meeting, a meeting of the China-US-Russia consultation mechanism on Afghanistan, and a meeting of the foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, including the Taliban’s acting foreign minister and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The latter’s attendance turned what under normal circumstances would have been a story about Beijing’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and its attempts to play a mediator role, into a statement about China’s continued support for Moscow as the war in Ukraine rages on.
Only a few days previously, Wang visited Pakistan to attend the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for the first time, and also went on surprise visits to Afghanistan, India and Nepal.
What to watch: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an item on Wang’s agenda at almost every one of these meetings. From the readouts, it becomes clear that Beijing had two important goals: to make clear that China does not stand alone in its stance on the war in Ukraine, and to try to secure support for Beijing’s view of the global order.
Despite Western claims that Russia is increasingly isolated on the international stage and that China may end up in a similar position if it continues to stand by Russia, Beijing is pushing back with evidence of its continued engagement with countries in the region. By inviting Lavrov to China, Beijing also gave Moscow an opportunity to do the same.
The BRICS summit, which China will host later this year, will create yet another high-profile opportunity for the Chinese leadership to push its narrative that most of the world is in agreement with its position on the war in Ukraine.
MERICS analysis: “Although 141 countries voted together at the UN to condemn Russia’s aggression (while China abstained), there is still a clear gap between how many countries in the Indo-Pacific and beyond view the situation and the perspectives in liberal democracies,” says MERICS Lead Analyst Helena Legarda. “Beijing is bound to try to take advantage of this to push its own view of the global order. Likewise, it will try to weaken any Western attempts at building a coalition that might be used, in the eyes of the Chinese leadership, to contain China’s rise.”
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