China evacuates citizens from Afghanistan as US withdraws troops

 A US military vehicle being loaded onto a truck in Kandahar, Afghanistan, last year.
A US military vehicle being loaded onto a truck in Kandahar, Afghanistan, last year.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - China evacuated 210 nationals from Afghanistan as US troops stepped up their withdrawal from the war-torn nation, the airline that carried out the emergency chartered flight said.

A Xiamen Airlines flight departed the Afghan capital Kabul for the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei province on July 2, carrying Chinese citizens who had been stranded in Afghanistan, it said in a social media post on Thursday (July 8).

Among them were 22 people who were later confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, despite the airline taking "top-notch epidemic prevention measures" during the flight and upon landing, it added.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that recent returnees included coronavirus patients and called on all nationals to leave Afghanistan, without revealing further specifics of the evacuation flight.

"In order to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in Afghanistan, the Chinese government has reminded citizens in Afghanistan to leave the country as soon as possible and provided necessary assistance," its consular affairs department said in a social media post on Wednesday.

The Chinese health authorities reported 25 new imported coronavirus cases in Hubei province on Wednesday, 22 of whom were from the Kabul flight.

The flight was organised by the Chinese government, reported the state media tabloid Global Times.

United States President Joe Biden has vowed that American troops will leave Afghanistan by Aug 31, after two decades of bloody conflict in the region.

With the Taleban having routed much of northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, fears are growing over the government's waning control of a handful of provincial capitals.

In recent weeks, Beijing has harshly criticised what it sees as a hasty and chaotic withdrawal by Washington.

"The US disregards its responsibilities and duties and withdraws troops from Afghanistan hastily, dumping the mess and war on the Afghan people and countries in the region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a routine briefing on Friday.

"The US, as the original culprit of the Afghan issue, bears unavoidable responsibility for the current situation in Afghanistan."

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is set to discuss the deteriorating Afghan security situation with his counterparts from Russia, India, Pakistan and numerous Central Asian countries at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation next week.

The evacuation flight was hailed as a patriotic victory by Chinese social media users, with related trending hashtags gaining more than 300 million views on microblogging site Weibo.

"This route is not easy to fly even once; we cannot leave a single compatriot behind," the pilot was quoted as saying in the Xiamen Airlines post.