China has signed security and economic agreements with Afghanistan during a rare trip to Kabul by a top Chinese official, in deals seen as aimed at bolstering Beijing’s influence ahead of a NATO withdrawal of most combat forces by 2014.
Zhou Yongkang (周永康), China’s domestic security chief and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, made an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital late on Saturday, holding talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his garden palace.
Zhou’s visit was the first to Afghanistan by a senior Chinese leader since 1966 and followed a visit by Karzai to Beijing in June when both countries agreed to cooperate on combating extremism in the region.
During the talks, held under tight security after violent protests in Kabul over a film that insults Islam, Zhou signed agreements on increased security and economic cooperation, including a deal to help “train, fund and equip Afghan police.”
The agreement was not specific on how much assistance China planned to give the 149,000-strong police force, which is currently trained by the NATO-led coalition.
“It is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples for China and Afghanistan to strengthen a strategic and cooperative partnership which is also conducive to regional peace, stability and development,” Zhou said in a statement, according to Xinhua news agency.
Resource-hungry China, which has a small border with Afghanistan in the country’s mountainous northeastern corridor, is keen to invest in Afghan resource deposits worth as much as US$1 trillion, based on US Pentagon estimates.
Chinese state-owned miner China Metallurgical Group (MCC, 中國冶金科工集團公司) operates the US$3 billion Aynak copper mine in eastern Logar Province, which has been subject to rocket attacks and other raids by insurgent groups looking to disrupt operations.
MCC won the contract to develop Aynak in 2008 and it was originally scheduled to begin production next year, but work has been delayed by the discovery of a huge and significant archeological site in the area.
Zhou’s visit underscores the concern in Beijing about a deterioration in security as the NATO presence in Afghanistan winds down.
It also comes after Karzai last week voiced concern about strategic pacts signed with chief ally the US earlier this year ahead of talks starting in three weeks’ time on a continued US troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Zhou had originally been scheduled to travel to Turkmenistan following a visit to Singapore, but diverted to Afghanistan for the meeting.
The Chinese government fully respects the right of the Afghan people to choose their own path of development and will actively participate in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, Xinhua reported Zhou as telling Karzai.
Karzai said security in the region “depends on the relations between Afghanistan and its neighbors,” presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said, with both countries agreeing to expand their so far limited ties.