Some experts consider that a Chinese foreign minister’s high-profile tour of Central Asian that has begun as the security situation in Afghanistan worsens is an effort by Beijing to boost its interests in the region.

An article by Reid Standish, a correspondent for RFE/RL focused on China in Eurasia, says the weeklong visit to Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan comes as the Taliban continues to take territory from Afghan government forces amid the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from the country, which is set to be completed by August 31.

The article entitled China Cautiously Eyes New Regional Leadership Role As Afghanistan Fighting Intensifies, in particular, notes that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is reportedly looking to shore up Beijing’s rising clout while discussing the growing security concerns in the region as the departure of foreign troops winds down and fighting between the Taliban and government forces intensifies.

Temur Umarov, an expert on China in Central Asia at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Radio Liberty that Beijing will use Wang’s trip as an opportunity to show its regional power ambitions. 

The trip began with a two-day visit to Turkmenistan on July 12 followed by meetings in Tajikistan, where Wang attended an annual gathering of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and a meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group.  After Tajikistan, Chinese foreign minister is visiting Uzbekistan.  

The SCO has reportedly been one of the main vehicles through which Beijing has expanded its influence in Central Asia and the wider region, which could grow amid the fluid situation in Afghanistan.

China’s future role, however, is still being defined.  Beijing maintains a strategic relationship with Pakistan, the Taliban’s main backer, and strong ties with Iran.  China’s political and economic influence in Central Asia has also expanded dramatically in the last decade.

But while Beijing holds influential cards for Afghanistan, its “strategy is unclear and vague,” Umarov said, adding that even though “China doesn’t want to replace the United States” in Afghanistan, it also won’t be taking a hands-off approach.

“In the future, we can likely expect more [Chinese] engagement with different parties in the Afghan conflict, but only if it fits China’s interests in the region,” said the expert.  “The most important goal for China is to seal the chaos inside Afghanistan’s borders.”

Meanwhile, those spillover fears, as well as concerns over an uptick in Islamist extremist activity, are shared by Afghanistan's northern neighbors in Central Asia. 

Turkmenistan moved heavy weaponry closer to its border with Afghanistan on July 11 and put reservists on alert in Ashgabat, the capital.  Turkmenistan reportedly also hosted a Taliban delegation for talks on July 10.

On July 5, Tajikistan -- where two-thirds of the country’s 1,357-kilometer-long border with Afghanistan is now under Taliban control -- sent 20,000 army reservists to guard the border and called for assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Tajikistan in particular remains a crucial focal point for wider security issues in the region. The country hosts approximately 7,000 Russian troops at a major military base and is also home to a Chinese military outpost along the Afghan-Tajik border, which is Beijing’s only military facility in the region.

The collection of military compounds is reportedly used by Chinese personnel for intelligence gathering focused on counterterrorism, specifically on Uyghur militant groups based in Afghanistan whom Beijing wants to monitor and prevent from crossing into its western Xinjiang Province.

Moscow remains a regional military leader and views Central Asia as within its “sphere of influence.” While China and Russia share similar concerns over regional stability, the Kremlin remains apprehensive about an expanded Chinese military footprint in the area, a factor that analysts note Beijing will need to be mindful of amid the evolving situation in Afghanistan.