The Chinese internal approach to gender exclusion in political leadership is now being manifested in a parochial approach in its relationship with Afghanistan. At the 20th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) National Congress, held in October 2022, not a single woman was among the newly constituted Politburo standing committee or the Politburo’s 24 members. The only woman in the party top hierarchy is a single state counsellor, Shen Yiqin, despite party-state’s policies addressing gender inequality have largely focused on promoting women’s economic roles. Women are effectively seen as a reserve labour force that contributes to the greater cause of nation-building and economic development. But when the CCP’s economic needs come into conflict with the goal of full female employment, women’s equality takes second place. Figures for CCP membership in December 2021 indicate that of 96.71 million members, 28.43 (just over a third) were women, and only 11 out of 205 members on the Central Committee are women. The Chinese lack of inclusion of women in leadership roles in the political structures and its vision of being a responsible nation contributing to the well being of humanity, articulated in the recently released white paper on A Global Community of Shared Future: China’s Proposals and Actions, are contradictory.
This articulated approach in which there is no mention of women or gender equality in a “shared future” provides an insight into its approach to developing country relationships as it talks of people-to-people relationships. A prime example of the disconnect between the Chinese talk and action is the relationship with Afghanistan. With the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate still unrecognized worldwide, and with only five countries—China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Turkmenistan—having handed over their Afghan embassies to the Taliban, in mid-September China appointed an ambassador, the first country to do so, de facto recognising the government and its policies. Among the first actions of the Taliban government, girls have been banned from secondary school and women from tertiary education, and also from entering amusement parks, public baths, gyms and sports clubs for four months. Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August 2021, women have been wholly excluded from public office and the judiciary through more than 50 decrees, according to a UN report. Today, Afghanistan’s women and girls are compelled to stay at home and are required to adhere to a strict dress code and are not permitted to travel more than 75 km without a mahram.
In this picture, it should be noted that the Afghani government welcomed the appointment of the Chinese ambassador as a significant step, carrying a significant message. On his credential presentation meeting, the Chinese ambassador stated that China respects Afghanistan’s national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and will never interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, underscoring the significant economic and security progress in the last couple of years. Similar statements only reinforce the Taliban government’s oppressive policies, those against women among them.
China today is the second largest economy in the world and has considerable influence in the international diplomatic arena through trade, finance and technology, but it does not preach or practice gender equality. With Chinese influence in Pakistan, Iran, Central Asian countries and West Asia, the Chinese approach of “Win Win” at the cost of exclusion of women and their rights is harmful to half the population in the region and provides an insight into the character of the Chinese leadership.