| KABUL, Sept 23
KABUL, Sept 23 China has signed security and
economic agreements with Afghanistan during a rare trip to Kabul
by a top Chinese official, in deals seen aimed at bolstering
Beijing's influence ahead of a NATO withdrawal of most combat
forces by 2014.
Zhou Yongkang, China's domestic security chief and a member
of the ruling Communist Party's central Politburo, made an
unannounced visit to the Afghan capital late on Saturday,
holding talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his garden
Zhou's visit was the first to Afghanistan by a senior
Chinese leader since 1966 and followed a visit by Karzai to
Beijing in June when both countries agreed to cooperate on
combating extremism in the region.
During the talks, held under tight security after violent
protests in Kabul over a film which insults Islam, Zhou signed
agreements on increased security and economic cooperation,
including a deal to help "train, fund and equip Afghan police".
The agreement was not specific on how much assistance China
planned to give the 149,000-strong police force, which is
currently trained by the NATO-led coalition.
"It is in line with the fundamental interests of the two
peoples for China and Afghanistan to strengthen a strategic and
cooperative partnership which is also conducive to regional
peace, stability and development," Zhou said in a statement,
according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
Resource-hungry China, which has a small border with
Afghanistan in the country's mountainous north-eastern corridor,
is keen to invest in Afghan resource deposits worth as much as
$1 trillion, based on U.S. Pentagon estimates.
Chinese state-owned miner China Metallurgical Group (MCC)
operates the $3 billion Aynak copper mine in eastern
Logar province, which has been subject to rocket attacks and
other raids by insurgent groups looking to disrupt operations.
MCC won the contract to develop Aynak in 2008 and it was
originally scheduled to begin production in 2013, but work has
been delayed by the discovery of a huge and significant
archaeological site in the area.
Zhou's visit underscores the concern in Beijing about a
deterioration in security as the NATO presence in Afghanistan
It also comes after Karzai last week voiced concern about
strategic pacts signed with chief ally the United States earlier
this year ahead of talks starting in three weeks' time on a
continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Zhou had originally been scheduled to travel to Turkmenistan
following a visit to Singapore, but diverted to Afghanistan for
The Chinese government fully respects the right of the
Afghan people to choose their own path of development and will
actively participate in Afghanistan's reconstruction, Zhou told
Karzai, according to Xinhua.
Karzai said security in the region "depends on the relations
between Afghanistan and its neighbours", presidential spokesman
Aimal Faizi said, with both countries agreeing to expand their
so far limited ties.