China called on Wednesday for an independent and stable Afghanistan free from outside interference, in what diplomats interpreted as a new, higher profile effort by Asia’s largest economy to take a more active role in its neighbor’s future.
Speaking at a conference on Afghanistan in Istanbul, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin (劉振民) urged the international community to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and said Afghans must rally behind a national reconciliation.
“The international community must support an Afghanistan run by the Afghans,” Liu said. “We must pledge to respect Afghanistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, to respect the dignity and rights of its government and people to be masters of their own country.”
China has previously steered well clear of any serious political engagement in Afghanistan, focusing instead on investing billions of dollars in the country as it hunts precious resources and profit, but senior Western diplomats said China’s position in Istanbul reflected a positive move away from Beijing’s wait-and-see stance.
“They realize that a policy of further being on the wings, watching what goes on and ready to pick up things, isn’t good enough,” one senior diplomat said.
For the first time, diplomats said, the Chinese had taken an active role in the drafting of the conference communique.
“They were very vocal and raised several issues during the drafting. We weren’t even allowed to begin the final version until the Chinese delegation had arrived,” another Western diplomat said, adding that the final version was not finished until early on Wednesday.
“Before, you would attend meetings on Afghanistan and the neighbors would be silent, and here you have them taking a lead and that’s what it is all about,” another diplomat said. “The Chinese for the first time were very comprehensive and constructive, you could really see an elevated role of China in the region and more outspoken than ever before.”
All the diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity so they could speak freely on the subject.