China presses Afghanistan-Pakistan rapprochement

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China has called on Afghanistan and Pakistan to mend strained ties and boost security cooperation, as Beijing expands its diplomatic and economic footprint in the region.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for the countries’ first tri-lateral meeting in Beijing on Tuesday.

In a joint statement, the three ministers called for a “broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation process, which is ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned'” to end violence in Afghanistan.

They also called on the “Taliban to join the peace process at an early date.”

Tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been mounting as Afghans and the United States accuse Pakistan of directly and indirectly supporting the Taliban and another insurgent group, the Haqqani network. Pakistan denies the accusations.

Read more: What is Pakistan’s militancy issue all about? 

The three ministers agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation and not allow terrorist organizations to use their territory against another country.

China’s growing interest

The diplomatic and security talks reflect China’s rising influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In June, the Chinese foreign minister visited both Pakistan and Afghanistan to press for better cooperation. 

Previous talks between China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States have failed to address security issues and get the Taliban to the negotiating table after Pakistan hosted talks in July 2015 between Kabul and the militants.

Taliban representatives refuse to talk to the Afghan government but have been to China several times. China is also pouring billions of dollars of investment into Pakistan, raising hopes that it can influence Islamabad.

China has a security interest in stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan because it shares a border with both countries in its western Xinjiang province. Beijing is worried about separatism and extremism among Xinjiang’s Muslim and ethnic Uighur population.

Read more: Economic corridor – CPEC could turn Pakistan into China’s ‘client state’

Xinjiang’s ‘Belt and Road’ tie-in

The western province is a key part of the “Belt and Road Initiative” to develop a modern-day trade network linking China to Central and South Asia, Europe and beyond. 

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said his government would “fully leverage” Xinjiang as a base for economic cooperation with the bordering countries.

China and Pakistan said they would look at including Afghanistan in a nearly $60 billion (€50 billion) “economic corridor” under development as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor includes massive investments in roads, railways, ports and infrastructure.

For China, maintaining security and stability along the expensive economic corridor is a key concern as thousands of Chinese contractors pour into the region.

cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)