China awaits Karzai for key talks
Afghan president due to arrive in Beijing for discussions on peace and trade.
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2010 10:18 GMT
Hamid Karzai is hoping to secure Chinese support to help in his push for peace in the region [AFP]

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is due to arrive in China on Tuesday for a state visit that will see economic and security concerns topping the agenda.

During his three-day visit Karzai is expected to seek China's diplomatic clout to help rein in a growing insurgency in his country.

Aid, trade and drug trafficking will also be on the agenda for Karzai's fourth trip to Beijing since he assumed the Afghan presidency more than eight years ago.

The focus on a diplomatic push to end the fighting comes at a time when violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since the US-backed ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

Karzai is expected to present the Chinese leadership with his plan for reconciliation with the Taliban, in a bid to muster international support for peace talks with the group and other armed anti-government groups.

He also wants China to weigh in with its ally, Pakistan, a vital player in regional security.

"The main goal is to ask China, as a close friend to Pakistan, to take part in a solution to the problems in Afghanistan," a source with knowledge of Karzai's agenda told the Reuters news agency.

Mutual gains

But financial issues are also likely to top the agenda, the AFP news agency reported.

"Most of what will be discussed with the Chinese government will be economic issues," Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Karzai, told reporters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, last week.

China-Afghanistan ties

 Afghan leaders see China as key player in maintaining stability after US troops pull out

 China meanwhile has keen interest in Afghanistan's natural resources, potentially generating thousands of jobs for Afghans

 Beijing also eager to end what it says is Afghan-based support for Uighur separatists, and cut shipments of illegal Afghan drugs into China

 In 2008 China agreed to invest $3bn in developing Afghanistan's vast Aynak copper reserves, the largest single foreign direct investment in the country's history

 China has also given millions in aid for building of schools, hospital, roads and water supplies

Beside economic gains for China, a more peaceful Afghanistan would cut the threat of violence in China's largely Muslim northwest Xinjiang region, and possibly curb a flow of heroin into the country.

But Chinese experts say Beijing is generally reluctant to get involved in Afghanistan, and even less keen to meddle via Pakistan, a staunch ally which it has long supplied with finance and arms.

"China is not going to put any pressure on Pakistan; problems between [Kabul and Islamabad] are for them to sort out. Pakistan is not a province of China," Zhao Gancheng, the director for South Asia at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told Reuters.

"This affects Pakistan's own fundamental interests so no country can affect it ... The US is constantly trying to put more pressure on them to tackle this issue and it has no effect."

Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international aid, but its government hopes the vast reserves of minerals will provide the key to eventual financial independence.

China is also happy to await the result of an increase in US troops and other new policies aimed at curbing the insurgency.

"If things get better, China will step up investment, but if things don't, they will have to start withdrawing because without security, what kind of investment can you have?" Zhao said.

"I can only say that we must have a 'wait and see' attitude."

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