China on Monday said landlocked Afghanistan has expressed support for Beijing’s stance on the South China Sea dispute, the latest country from outside the region to line up behind China’s calls for bilateral talks on the issue.
The Foreign Ministry said Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah made the statement in a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing that also touched on security cooperation along their border in China’s volatile western region of Xinjiang.
“Our Afghan counterparts expressed their gratitude for China’s long-term support over the years, and also said they support China’s position on the South China Sea issue and support China’s efforts to resolve the South China Sea issue through bilateral channels and through peaceful means such as negotiation and consultation,” the deputy director general of the ministry’s department of Asian Affairs, Hou Yanqi, told reporters following the talks.
Hou said Li also expressed China’s willingness to help with Afghanistan’s national reconciliation process, provide assistance for projects including the construction of low-cost housing and boost imports of Afghan agricultural projects.
China has been seeking support from friendly nations for its bilateral approach to settling South China Sea territorial disputes, largely to counter efforts by the U.S., Philippines and others to challenge China’s claim to virtually the entire sea and creation of new islands out of coral reefs. Russia has so far been the most prominent nation to publicly endorse China’s position.
China has refused to participate in international arbitration on the matter brought by the Philippines and undermined efforts to approach the issue multilaterally through the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Hou said Abdullah pledged Afghanistan’s support for China in its fight against extremist groups blamed for attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the country.
Beijing has long provided Kabul with financial support and Chinese companies have invested in Afghan mining projects that hope to exploit the country’s estimated $3 trillion in mineral and petrochemical deposits.
Beijing’s state-run China Metallurgical Group struck a $3 billion deal in 2008 to develop a mining town at Mes Aynak with power generators, road and rail links, and smelting facilities. Workers built a residential compound, but were pulled out because of security concerns. President Ashraf Ghani’s government says it is determined to finish that project.
The sector is badly hampered by a lack of expertise in exploration, extraction and processing, along with inadequate infrastructure and the country’s chronic insecurity. A bitter feud between Abdullah and Ghani has also hobbled the Kabul government, leaving interim ministers in critical positions while the U.S. ally struggles to confront lawlessness, corruption and the Taliban’s resilient and perhaps expanding insurgency.
China has also hosted talks between the Kabul government and its opponents, although Abdullah was quoted as telling China’s official Xinhua News Agency last week that such contacts have failed to bear fruit because of Taliban intransigence.
Before returning to Kabul, Abdullah is to visit Xinjiang’s regional capital of Urumqi, a major Central Asian business hub.