The resumption of direct flights between Afghanistan and China after three years reflects strong demand for exchanges between the two countries, according to an observer.
Afghan national carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines will operate a round-trip flight between Kabul and Urumqi every Wednesday.
The flight was first launched in 2003 but was suspended in early 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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At a ceremony in Kabul on Wednesday to mark the resumption of the route, Ghulam Jilani Wafa, the Taliban's deputy minister for transport and civil aviation, said the air link would "directly enhance economic, political, and commercial ties" between Afghanistan and China.
Chinese diplomats also attended the event although Beijing has not officially recognised the Taliban government since it took power in August 2021.
Ariana Afghan Airlines is operating weekly round-trip flights between Kabul and Urumqi. Photo: Xinhua alt=Ariana Afghan Airlines is operating weekly round-trip flights between Kabul and Urumqi. Photo: Xinhua>
Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Afghan studies centre at Lanzhou University, said the resumption of the direct flight was the result of growing trade and business ties, though passenger flow was still limited.
"There is a strong demand for convenient air travel between the two countries," Zhu said, noting that most of the passengers were likely to be traders or business leaders.
In 2022, trade between the two countries exceeded US$1 billion, up about 20 per cent from 2021, according to Chinese data.
Zhu said China had an interest in helping Afghanistan despite differences with the Taliban, as the country's stability would have an impact on the neighbouring Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Beijing has also said Afghanistan is welcome to take part in China's Belt and Road Initiative, a grand plan to build transport and other infrastructure around the world.
In a position paper last month, Beijing said China supported Afghanistan's integration into regional economic cooperation and connectivity, and hoped to see Afghanistan transformed from a "landlocked country" to a "land-linked country".
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang also met Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi in Samarkand in April and again in Islamabad this month with Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
In a trilateral dialogue in Islamabad, the diplomats reaffirmed the consensus to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship belt and road project, to Afghanistan to improve regional connectivity.
The resumption of the Kabul-Urumqi service is the latest to be added to the carrier's routes, with flights also from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and India.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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