BEIJING: Chinese President Hu Jintao told his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai today that China will provide “sincere and selfless help” to Afghanistan, as he welcomed the country to become an observer at a security bloc anchored by Beijing and Moscow.
“At present Afghanistan has entered into a critical transition period. China is a trustworthy neighbour and friend of Afghanistan,” Hu told Karzai in central Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People.
“Both now and in the future China will continue to stay firmly committed to our policy of developing friendly relations with Afghanistan and will continue to provide sincere and selfless help to the Afghanistan side.”
Hu congratulated Karzai on Afghanistan becoming an observer member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which held its summit this week. He called Karzai an old friend of China, according to a pool report.
“In the past 10 years, very fortunately, our relations have grown in a very positive way. Relations have broadened and deepened,” Karzai said in return.
The future of Afghanistan, struggling to end an insurgency by Taliban militants despite the presence of US-led international forces for more than a decade, was one of the main issues at the two-day summit.
Hu told Chinese state media this week that the bloc bringing together China, Russia and central Asian states wanted to play a bigger role in Afghanistan.
A senior Russian official, however, ruled out any military involvement by member countries, despite fears instability will spread across the region as most foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
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. As an observer, Afghanistan can attend SCO meetings but not vote.
Chin has said it would increase cooperation with Afghanistan over resource development, infrastructure, energy and training.
But Beijing will remain cautious, edging rather than rushing towards any bigger presence on concern about security troubles without the lure of major energy resources, Chinese experts say.
US officials and legislators have said China could play a bigger reconstruction role through aid and investment.
Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Iran and Pakistan, as well as nearby India and Russia, have jostled for influence in the country. The competition could well heat up after 2014.
India has poured aid into Afghanistan and, like China, has invested in its mineral sector. But China’s trade with Afghanistan is small.
In 2011, two-way trade totalled US$234.4 million, a rise of 31% on the previous year. Chinese imports from Afghanistan were worth just US$4.4 million, according to Chinese customs data.