China calls for end to sanctions on Afghanistan ‘as soon as possible’

China has called for sanctions on Afghanistan to be lifted and says its foreign exchange reserves should not be frozen to exert “political pressure” on the Taliban.

“Economic sanctions on Afghanistan must end,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during virtual talks with his Group of 20 counterparts on Thursday.

“The various unilateral sanctions or restrictions on Afghanistan should be lifted as soon as possible,” he said, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

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Wang also hit out at the move to freeze the Afghan central bank’s US$9.5 billion in reserves held in the United States.

“Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves are national assets that should belong to and be used by its own people, and not be used as a bargaining chip to exert political pressure on Afghanistan,” he said.

China’s foreign minister also called on the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others to release Afghan government accounts “as soon as possible” and provide economic aid to Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said economic sanctions on Afghanistan “must end”. Photo: Handout

The IMF blocked the Taliban’s access to some US$440 million in assistance because of “a lack of clarity within the international community” over recognising the new regime after it seized control of the war-torn country. The World Bank and the European Union have also suspended aid to Afghanistan – the EU has pledged US$1.4 billion in long-term and emergency funding to the country over the next four years.

Afghanistan has long been dependent on foreign aid – it accounted for about 43 per cent of the country’s GDP last year, according to the World Bank. But with funds drying up since the Taliban took power, the country is on the brink of economic collapse and its humanitarian crisis is worsening, with the UN World Food Programme warning that one in three Afghans are facing food insecurity.

To tackle the crisis, donors including the US and European countries have promised more than US$1 billion in emergency funding, the UN said last week.

On Thursday, Wang said Afghan refugees would be a “huge economic and security burden” for neighbouring countries and the international community, and urged the US and Nato members to “bear the main responsibility” in handling the situation.

He called on the Taliban to improve the “inclusiveness and predictability” of its governance and said the international community should “help Afghanistan speed up reconstruction to fundamentally reduce the number of refugees”.

The Taliban has not been officially recognised by the international community since the militant group took power from the Western-backed government in August as US-led Nato troops left the country. It set up an interim government this month led by hardline Taliban figures and with no women appointed. There have been calls for the Taliban to address human rights issues – particularly women’s rights – in Afghanistan and to cut ties with terror groups before there is any engagement. When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, women were banned from work and education and the Hazara minority were persecuted and massacred.

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