A bloc bringing together China, Russia and central Asian states wants to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) said in an interview published yesterday, as group leaders gathered for an annual summit.
The future of neighbor Afghanistan, facing the withdrawal of most foreign combat forces by the end of 2014, is likely to be a main issue at the two-day meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), whose members fear instability spilling across central Asia as the pullout goes ahead.
“We will continue to manage regional affairs by ourselves, guarding against shocks from turbulence outside the region, and will play a bigger role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction,” Hu was quoted as saying in an interview with China’s official People’s Daily newspaper. “We’ll strengthen communication, coordination and cooperation in dealing with major international and regional issues.”
The SCO, founded in 2001, includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran, India, Pakistan and others attend the summits, but not as full members. All have an interest in Afghanistan’s future.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is attending as a guest, and his country is due to be granted “observer” status, meaning it can attend SCO meetings, but not vote.
On Sunday, Afghan officials told reporters that China and Afghanistan would soon announce a plan to deepen ties, signaling China’s desire to play a role beyond an economic partnership as Western forces prepare to leave.
Karzai said in Beijing the two governments were preparing to sign a preliminary agreement by Friday on the “creation of a strategic partnership.”
“Afghanistan will be expanding and strengthening relations with China,” Karzai said in a speech to university students.
Karzai also said China, the world’s second-biggest economy, which shares a short stretch of border with Afghanistan, could “play a very significant role in bringing Afghanistan and Pakistan together towards a cooperative environment in the war on terror and radicalism.”
Pakistan, a close ally of China with difficult ties with Afghanistan, is seen as crucial to Afghan stability.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) said China would increase cooperation with Afghanistan in the fields of resource development, infrastructure, energy and training.
“Events in Afghanistan are of great concern to the security and stability of central Asia,” Liu said at a regular briefing.
However, China will remain cautious about Afghanistan, edging rather than rushing toward any bigger presence on concern about getting dragged into its security troubles without the lure of extensive energy resources, Chinese experts said.
US officials and legislators have said China could play a bigger reconstruction role through aid and investment.
In the interview, Hu did not give details of how the loose SCO security grouping could play a bigger role in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan, as well as nearby India and Russia, have jostled for influence in the country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, and many expect the competition to heat up after 2014.
India has poured aid into Afghanistan and, like China, has invested in its mineral sector. However, China’s trade with Afghanistan is small.
Last year, total two-way trade was worth US$234.4 million, a rise of 31 percent on the previous year, and Chinese imports from Afghanistan were worth just US$4.4 million, according to Chinese customs data.
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