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US wants China to play bigger role in Afghanistan

May 05, 2010 18:16 IST

 Seeking to strike common ground with China on key matters related to South Asia, the US has said it wants Beijing to "coordinate more" with its efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" Al-Qaeda.

US Assistant Secretary for South Asia Robert Blake, who held talks with his Chinese counterparts on a host of issues concerning South Asia, said Washington wants Beijing to "coordinate more" with its efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Washington's highest strategic priorities is to help Afghanistan and Pakistan to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates entrenched along the two countries' border," Blake said. "This is an interest that China shares with the US and Pakistan. So we discussed ways that China can coordinate and contribute to international efforts in these two countries," he added.

The talks were part of preparatory meetings ahead of the Sino-US strategic dialogue beginning on May 23 to be attended among others by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The issues discussed during Blake's talks with China apparently included those relating to India as well as Chinese plans to build two nuclear reactors for Pakistan. "The purpose of the dialogue is to have a wide-ranging dialogue on all of the issues in South Asia - not just Afghanistan or Pakistan, but also India, the situation in Nepal, and the situation in Sri Lanka," official media quoted Blake as saying.

The two sides also discussed US President Barack Obama's s plan to begin the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011, he said. "We assured China that we are certainly not going to withdraw our forces precipitously," Blake said, adding that the timing of withdrawal would depend on the security situation on the ground and the ability of internationally trained Afghan security forces to handle that situation.

Blake, who discussed the South Asian situation with scholars and officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: "China has an important stake in the success of these (international) efforts. And we welcome the opportunity to discuss ways China can contribute more both through investments and through assistance of various kinds."

Reacting to Blake's comments, a Chinese political analyst Hu Shisheng, who is a senior scholar of South Asia studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said China should take cue from India to step up humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Hu said China which has done a lot in Afghanistan can do more in reconstruction, and pointed to India as an example, state run China Daily reported.

"The US hopes China to be as deeply involved as it can. It's in accordance with Obama's strategy, which seeks to involve regional powers in Afghanistan," he said. Hu, who had a discussion with Blake on Monday, said the US official suggested that Beijing provide more aid in agriculture, education and training of officials. "He (Blake) also noted that China and the US are yet to set up a regular information exchange mechanism onAfghanistan," Hu added. China has been active in the reconstruction of Afghanistan since the US invasion in 2001 following the 9/11terror attacks.

China Metallurgical Group Corp and China's top integrated copper producer, Jiangxi Copper Corporation, in July started a project in Logar, a province southeast of Kabul, to explore the vast Aynak copper mines. The USD 4 billion investment is the biggest in Afghanistan's history. China has also helped Afghanistan train dozens of minesweepers over the past year. In late March when Afghan President Hamid Karzai paid a state visit to China, Beijing signed three deals with Kabul which cover economic cooperation, technical training and the granting of preferential tariffs for Afghan exports. Despite these efforts, Hu said China can do more in reconstruction. "China should actively contribute to helping Afghanistan with people's livelihood, economic growth and social stability," Hu said, noting it is in China's interests to do so.

K J M Varma in Beijing
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