Karzai in Beijing for talks to woo China

BEIJING: Building stability in Afghanistan through investment and support from its neighbours will be key themes in talks beginning today in Beijing between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Chinese leaders.

Highlighting the importance of strategic dialogue in Asia’s most volatile region, Karzai’s national security adviser met China’s foreign minister earlier this week ahead of the president’s arrival on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

The content of Rangin Dadfar Spanta’s three days of discussions wasn’t known, although Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he met Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in preparation for Karzai’s arrival on Tuesday.

Karzai was due to meet President Hu Jintao today and talk on issues including regional security and Chinese investment in Afghan mineral resources.

The countries share a narrow border high in the remote Pamir Mountains and China has pledged continuing aid to the Afghan reconstruction process.

China, which professes to have a non-interventionist foreign policy, has limited its involvement in Afghanistan to diplomatic and humanitarian support, some trade, and investment in the minerals sector.

However, Afghanistan’s woes incorporate issues that Beijing considers direct threats to its stability: Islamist extremism spreading to its Muslim region of Xinjiang; the long-term presence of US and NATO forces on its borders; cross-border drug smuggling; and the deepening involvement of India, with whom China shares a disputed border and a sharpening rivalry.

China alleges Xinjiang separatists have received training and shelter in Afghanistan and has demanded the return of Chinese nationals captured there. Despite that, Beijing is not known to have openly interposed itself between the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — some of whose officials are believed to covertly support some elements of the Taliban insurgency. A Chinese company pledged $3 billion to tap one of the world’s largest unexploited copper reserves at Aynak, and is favored to win the rights to iron deposits at Hajigak when bids are considered this year.

Those projects have dragged on, however, amid continuing Taliban attacks. U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports have also claimed that Afghanistan’s then-minister of mines, Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, allegedly accepted a $20 million bribe to award the Aynak contract in late 2007 to China Metallurgical Group Corp.

Both deposits offer a potential financial boon for an impoverished country mir-ed in war, but require the construction of roads, railways, and processing plants in areas still roiled by the insurgency.

Karzai’s delegation includes the foreign and defence ministers along with 20 leading business people. Talks will also be held with Chinese business leaders and three bilateral economic cooperation agreements will be signed.