China will formally acknowledge the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan after Kabul is defeated, according to US and foreign intelligence sources cited in a US News & World Report article.
Although China previously made an official statement claiming it would not recognize any government “imposed through the use of military force,” its actual plans may have been foreshadowed in late July 2021, when they held peace talks with Taliban leaders in Tianjin, which in itself internationally legitimized the Taliban group.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, described the Taliban as “a pivotal military and political force” that would play “an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction” of Afghanistan.
The Chinese government is likely very concerned about a neighboring country being overtaken by Islamists armed with the conquered Afghan Army's weapons and the implications that would have for their own Xinjiang province, home to the mostly-Muslim Uyghur population.
Human rights groups have repeatedly identified China's detention of Uyghurs in literal death camps where Muslims are used in forced-labor and women are reproductively sterilized. Upon the seemingly inevitable and rapid Taliban victory, China may have their hands full as Afghanistan returns to its former status, a massive Islamist terror training ground in their own backyard.
By acknowledging the Taliban as a legitimate government, China is buying time to build a Taliban-specific foreign policy by first bringing them to the bargaining table.