Beijing did not indicate whether Wednesday’s appointment signalled any wider steps such as formal recognition.

The Taliban on Wednesday welcomed China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan, with Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi saying the nomination of Zhao Sheng was a “significant step with a significant message”.

It is the first time since the Taliban takeover in 2021 that an ambassador to Kabul has been afforded such lavish protocol, with the Afghan officials saying the new envoy’s arrival is a sign for other nations to come forward and establish relations with the Taliban-led government.

“This is the normal rotation of China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, and is intended to continue advancing dialogue and cooperation between China and Afghanistan,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “China’s policy towards Afghanistan is clear and consistent.”

The Taliban have not been officially recognised by any foreign government, and Beijing did not indicate whether Wednesday’s appointment signalled any wider steps towards formal recognition of the Taliban.

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Several Taliban leaders remain under sanctions and the country’s seat at the United Nations is still held by the former Western-backed government that was led by former President Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban has struggled to revive the economy and address a humanitarian crisis as the West has frozen Afghan assets worth billions of dollars and refused to end its financial isolation.

‘Abandon double standards’

Ambassador Zhao’s car swept through the tree-lined driveway of the Presidential Palace on Wednesday escorted by a police convoy.

He was greeted by uniformed troops and met top-ranking Taliban officials, including Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who heads the administration, and Foreign Minister Muttaqi.

A statement from China’s embassy in Afghanistan issued on Wednesday urged the international community to maintain its dialogue and encourage the country to put in place an inclusive political framework, adopt moderate policies, combat “terrorism” and develop friendly external relations.

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In this handout photo released by the Taliban Prime Minister Media Office, China's new ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Sheng meets with Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund
Zhao Sheng meets with Taliban Prime Minister Akhund [Taliban Prime Minister Media Office via AP Photo]

It said certain countries need to “draw lessons” from what happened in Afghanistan, abandon double standards on combating “terrorism”, return the country’s overseas assets, and lift sanctions.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, and the Taliban officials have been open about their desire for closer ties, especially commercial ones. The country’s previous ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, took up the role in 2019 when the West-backed government was still in power and completed his tenure last month.

Taliban spokesperson in Doha Suhail Shaheen told Al Jazeera the move will further enhance relations between the two countries and pave the way for cooperation in various fields.

“Other governments appointed charge d’affaires after the expiry of the terms of their ambassadors. However, China decided to nominate a new ambassador.”

There are other diplomats in Kabul with the title of ambassador, but all of them took up their posts before 2021 when the Taliban seized power after US and NATO forces withdrew after two decades of war and occupation.

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Only a handful of countries and bodies, such as Pakistan and the European Union, have since sent senior diplomats to lead diplomatic missions using the title charge d’affaires, which does not require presenting ambassadorial credentials to the host nation.

In this handout photo released by Taliban Prime Minister Media Office, China's new ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Sheng
China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Sheng, left, reviews an honor guard [Taliban Prime Minister Media Office via AP Photo]

The Taliban’s chief spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, told The Associated Press news agency that it is tradition for new ambassadors to present their credentials to the head of the country.

“It also signals to other countries to come forward and interact with the Islamic Emirate,” Mujahid said referring to the name of the Taliban administration.

“We should establish good relations as a result of good interactions and, with good relations, we can solve all the problems that are in front of us or coming in the future.”

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