AN ASIAN ADVANTAGE: Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Beijing on March 24 (FAN RUJUN)
China reaffirmed its pledge to assist Afghanistan with its reconstruction efforts during President Hamid Karzai's recent state visit to Beijing. Trade, investment, human resources training and antiterrorism cooperation are projected to be among the most prominent areas of bilateral cooperation.
"China, as always, will support Afghanistan's peaceful reconstruction as well as its efforts to safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity," Chinese President Hu Jintao told Karzai on March 24.
Karzai visited China from March 23 to 25, five months after winning a second term in November 2009. The Afghan president previously paid three visits to China in 2002, 2006 and 2008.
While meeting Karzai, Hu put forward a series of proposals on strengthening Sino-Afghan ties. He suggested, for instance, that the two countries' leaders maintain regular contacts to deepen their political trust. More importantly, Hu called for coordinated efforts to promote investment and stable trade growth.
"China," he added, "is ready to discuss new projects with Afghanistan and enhance bilateral cooperation in areas such as agriculture, farmland irrigation, mining and infrastructure development."
China is one of Kabul's major trade partners with bilateral trade accounting for more than 10 percent of Afghanistan's total foreign trade volume in recent years, Zheng Qingdian, China's Ambassador to Afghanistan, told China Radio International.
Two-way trade soared to $611 million in 2007, up from $20 million five years earlier. Despite a drop in trade volume in 2008 because of the global financial crisis, bilateral trade rebounded last year. Altogether, this amounted to $215 million in 2009—a 39-percent increase from the previous year, according to the statistics of China's Ministry of Commerce. Of this amount, Chinese exports to Afghanistan totaled $213 million.
China's principal exports to Afghanistan include machinery, electronic products, construction materials, home appliances and green tea. China imports largely agricultural products from Afghanistan such as sheepskin, carpets and cotton, Zheng said.
Although Afghanistan's exports to China remain small, the ambassador said Kabul has a vast potential to increase exports of minerals and agricultural products.
In an effort to increase the import of Afghan products, the Chinese Government exempted the tariffs on 278 types of products from Afghanistan beginning in July 2006.
China's investments in Afghanistan have also increased significantly. Many Chinese companies, in fact, are now engaged in developing Afghanistan's major telecommunications, infrastructure and mineral extraction projects.
For instance, the Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd. and the Jiangxi Copper Corporation have invested more than $4 billion in the Aynak copper field in Afghanistan—making China the single biggest foreign investor in Afghanistan, Zheng said.
The endeavor, initiated in July last year, he added, is expected to generate huge tax revenues for Kabul while creating job opportunities for local residents.
During his meeting with Hu, Karzai said that Afghanistan welcomes Chinese investors, and that his government would take measures to ensure the safety of the Chinese people and companies in Afghanistan.
During his stay in Beijing, Karzai also addressed a trade and investment seminar hosted by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. More than 70 representatives from 40 Chinese and Afghan companies were in attendance.
In addition to business ties, China and Afghanistan will likely strengthen cooperation in areas such as human resources development, education, cultural exchanges and improvements in public health, Hu said. He added that China is also prepared to offer technical and professional expertise that can help Afghanistan's reconstruction.
China's history of providing assistance to Afghanistan dates back to the 1960s, when Chinese workers helped build irrigation projects, hospitals, textile factories and rural farms, Zheng said.
Since 2002, China has provided Afghanistan with more than 900 million yuan ($132 million) in overall reconstruction assistance. Last year, Beijing went on to announce that it would offer an additional 75 million yuan ($11 million) in assistance over the course of the next five years.
When it comes to regional security, meanwhile, Hu said that China and Afghanistan would work closely to combat transnational organized crime, as well as "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism.