This week, many Chinese netizens, like the rest of the world, have been fixating on a crisis-stricken Afghanistan. The Chinese government has reiterated that it would not “interfere with Afghanistan’s internal affairs,” and that it respects the right of the Afghan people to “decide their own fate.” On social media, some people are pushing back against the government’s rhetoric, decrying Taliban sympathizers for being “Taliban in spirit” (jīng Tǎ 精塔).
Some observers believe that China is laying the groundwork to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate regime. In early July, a Taliban spokesperson called China a “welcome friend.” Taliban officials visited China earlier this month and met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, who said that Beijing did not intend to “interfere” in Afghan affairs and that the future of the country “shall be placed in hands of the Afghan people.”
Chinese social media has seen a mixture of shock, anger, schadenfreude, and heartfelt sympathy. Discussion is being censored. After Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi pleaded for the world to pay attention to her country, particularly to the plight of women and girls, a WeChat blog shared a translation of the open letter. WeChat deleted the post within a few hours, and the Chinese title of the letter is currently unsearchable on Weibo.
In a Weibo post, the People’s Daily described the Taliban as a group originating as “students in refugee camps” which later gained the “support of the poor.” The post prompted a backlash, with some criticizing official media for “whitewashing” a terrorist regime. The controversy was later summarized in a WeChat blog. Both the original Weibo post and the WeChat blog have been deleted.
Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin, who just last month circulated Taliban-friendly commentary from the nationalist website Guancha, said that the changes in Afghanistan would “definitely” harm the U.S. more than China from “a geopolitical point of view.” Hu has gained some support from populist Weibo users, but others are calling him “Taliban in spirit.” Jīng Tǎ is a play on more common online phrases like 精日 (jīng Rì), a pejorative term for those seen as holding extremely pro-Japan views. Similar phrases include 精美 (jīng Měi), or “American in spirit,” and 精赵 (jīng Zhào), or “Zhao in Spirit,” referring to those who identify with the rich and powerful despite being underdogs themselves.
The CDT Chinese editors have collected comments about the Taliban from Weibo:
@Songluo: Speaking of biodiversity, now we have the Taliban in spirit.
@Pneumatic丸: I doubt the Taliban is aware they have so many followers in China.
用户syydbeia4f：Why are we indulging in schadenfreude when we might get harmed, too? Just because America might be harmed even more? Isn’t this the definition of brain damage?
@Andyhuangwei: I’m so worried. Afghan women have lost much of their beautiful life. This might bring about a refugee crisis. The American exodus is like dumping stock to cut one’s losses. It’s nothing. They can focus on dealing with a certain group now. And that group I’m talking about [the CCP], be prepared to get hammered.
@将来要当王百亿: Here’s why they support the Taliban: the Americans struggled in Afghanistan for many years. The Taliban dragged the Americans down. And they firmly believe that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which means the Taliban is our friend. It’s either black or white. They simply don’t have the humanitarian perspective to look at how terrorists have harmed this world.
@Isekisi里的旋转小字: Those who support the Taliban should remember this: Afghanistan is one of the largest exporters of drugs. The Taliban gets most of their money from the drug trade. They lifted the ban on opium and planted it in large quantities in their controlled regions. They produced more than 10000 metric tons each year, which accounts for around 90% of global opium production, generating 400 to 500 million USD annually. In addition to opium, the Taliban produced a lot of marijuana, heroin, meth, and other drugs, many of which came into our country. To borrow your logic: If you support the Taliban, you support the drug trade, which means you don’t respect the lives of our narcotics police, which means you have insulted China. [Editor’s note: Some details here may be inflated, but the broader argument that the Taliban profits from the drug trade and that Afghanistan is a global center of opiate trafficking is accurate.]
@夏北生: On the situation in Afghanistan: The Taliban produces and trades drugs, abuses women, destroys the Bamiyan Buddhas, launches terrorist attacks, and shuns civilization. The Taliban is no good. The Afghans didn’t choose them. You Taliban in spirit, please turn away. I’ll say it again: we take different paths.
@丸丸大爷人民: Damn, I’d like to have a choice, too. But do I?
@景帝纪事看: Old Hu’s logic: We are happy even if we get slapped in the face, as long as America is miserable.
@李大叔不太冷: I’ve seen Afghan people running away. How scary is the Taliban? It’s a terrorist regime.
The relationship between Beijing and the Taliban has been complicated at best. Beijing has long worried that the Taliban-controlled territories could host separatist forces from Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan. Observers say that any potential cooperation between Beijing and the Taliban would be contingent upon the latter’s Xinjiang policy. Wang Yi urged the Taliban during the July meeting to crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group repeatedly blamed by Beijing for inciting ethnic violence in China. As for President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, little has been advanced in Afghanistan, analysis shows. The region’s geopolitical importance has long been overshadowed by serious security concerns.