KABUL (Reuters) - China’s vice president pledged infrastructure and security support for Afghanistan on Tuesday, signing several deals during a rare high-level Chinese visit to Kabul.
China says it does not seek to fill a void left by a drawdown of most foreign troops in Afghanistan at the end of last year, but has promised to play a “huge” commercial role in helping rebuild the country, where the Taliban seek to re-establish their Islamist regime.
Some experts, however, argue that the benefits of Chinese aid and investment in Afghanistan have yet to fully materialize amid the deteriorating security situation there.
Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Beijing would provide 500 million yuan ($79 million) this year to help build housing in the capital Kabul.
“China is willing to help Afghanistan formulate infrastructure plans to strengthen interconnectedness and intercommunication with surrounding countries,” Li said in a speech that was broadcast on Afghan state television.
Ghani said the funds will help build 10,000 residential apartments in Kabul, and that China also pledged to provide “special security devices” to scan vehicles entering the capital.
“Unfortunately two countries which are committed to peace and stability are in danger from regional and international terrorism,” Ghani said in comments that were also carried on television.
“Our discussions were based on how to bring under control and eliminate those ominous phenomena which are obstacles to stability, prosperity and cooperation in the region,” Ghani said, calling China “a factor to bring peace in Afghanistan”.
It was unclear if the deals went beyond the billions of yuan in commitments China announced last fall when Ghani made his first trip abroad as president to Beijing.
Li’s trip had not been publicly announced in advance, though it is not unusual for senior foreign officials not to give prior notice of their visits to Afghanistan for security reasons.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Kabul in 2014. Former Chinese domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was felled in a domestic political scandal, visited in 2012 and signed deals to help train and equip Afghan police.
China has become increasingly concerned about what it calls extremists and separatists in its western region of Xinjiang, where violence has killed hundreds in recent years, and sees security in Afghanistan as key to stability at home.
Rights groups, however, blame the unrest in Xinjiang on frustration of the largely Muslim Uighur people from the region over China’s controls on their culture and religion, charges Beijing denies.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Mirwais Harooni; editing by Ralph Boulton