On Tuesday (17 August), the People's Daily, considered the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), faced widespread backlash on social media website Weibo for a post on the Taliban.
The post, titled "What kind of organisation is the Taliban" (塔利班是什么组织), the People's Daily wrote about the origins and the development of the outfit, which took control of Kabul on 15 August.
The post's contents angered many Chinese netizens, who called out the CCP mouthpiece for whitewashing the Taliban's crime.
The People's Daily post said the Taliban had originated as a group comprising "students in refugee camps" (难民营的学生). It added that the Taliban had around 800 people initially but managed to grow into a large organisation as it gained popularity among the poor.
"Because it received the support of the poor...the strength of the Taliban grew dramatically," the post read, according to a report on the website of the China Media Project (CMP), a research programme run in partnership with Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Centre.
"The post quickly rose to the top of the trending posts roster, becoming the fifth-ranked post on Weibo...," the CMP report said.
The whitewashing of the Taliban's crimes sparked backlash on Weibo.
"Why no mention of terrorism?" one Weibo user asked, commenting on the People's Daily post. "So it's a good thing to behead people?," asked another Chinese Internet user. "You endorse such an anti-human regime. How true to form!" said the third Chinese netizen.
"I really don't understand this. Who deprives women of their legitimate rights as human beings? Who arrests people and beheads them in the streets? Who is the most recognised terrorist organisation in the world? Who destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas?" a user asked.
The People's Daily deleted the post after it faced backlash on Weibo.
The whitewashing of the Taliban's crime by the mouthpiece of the CCP should not come as a surprise as the Chinese media has been gloating at the humiliating failure of the US in Afghanistan.
"Chinese netizens joked that the power transition in Afghanistan is even more smooth than presidential transition in the US," Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, a hawkish Chinese publication under the People's Daily, said on 15 August, hours after the Taliban takeover.
The pro-Taliban post by the CCP mouthpiece could be part of a new propaganda war by China to change domestic opinion as it extends a hand of "friendship and cooperation" towards the group.
On 28 July, just weeks ahead of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had met a delegation headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
"The Afghan Taliban is an important military and political force in Afghanistan and is expected to play an important role in the country's peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process," the Chinese Foreign Minister said back then, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry of China.
In recent days, reports have indicated that China is prepared to recognise the Taliban rule in Afghanistan to formalise their relationship.
While India and many other countries have withdrawn their embassies from Kabul and evacuated the staff, China's diplomatic outpost in Afghanistan continues to operate "normally" despite the Taliban takeover, suggesting that China has built close ties with the group.
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