FACTBOX - Relations between China and Afghanistan

Mon Mar 22, 2010 6:53pm IST

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signs a decree giving more authority to an anti-graft body in Kabul March 18, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signs a decree giving more authority to an anti-graft body in Kabul March 18, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

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REUTERS - Afghan President Hamid Karzai will arrive in China on Tuesday looking to enlist Beijing's diplomatic clout in its efforts to tackle a growing insurgency.

Drugs, aid and investment in Afghanistan's mineral wealth will also likely be on the table.

Below are some facts about their relationship:

TIES

* Contact between China and Afghanistan is recorded as early as the 7th Century AD when the Chinese monk Xuan Zang visited the then-Buddhist valley of Bamiyan and admired the two giant Buddhas which the Taliban destroyed in 2001.

* The two countries have had diplomatic ties since 1955, making Afghanistan one of the earlier countries to recognise the Communist regime of Mao Zedong instead of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government.

* China did not recognise the Taliban government that held Kabul from 1996 to 2001, but had indirect channels of communication through Taliban ally Pakistan.

* The Sino-Afghan relationship has long been strongly influenced by the powerful bonds that tie Beijing and Islamabad. China supplies finance and weapons to Pakistan; the two are also bound by mistrust and fear of neighbouring India.

* Afghanistan hopes China can be persuaded to pressure Pakistan's leaders to cut back their support for the Afghan Taliban and promote peace talks to end the insurgency, sources with knowledge of Karzai's agenda said.

TRADE AND INVESTMENT

* China, with its insatiable appetite for resources, and willingness to work with almost any kind of government, would be a promising candidate to expand mining in Afghanistan.

* Afghanistan relies on aid for around 90 percent of its budget, but its government hopes the vast reserves of mineral wealth it is sitting on could make it self-sufficient.

* Jiangxi Copper Co and Metallurgical Corp of China won a contract in 2008 to develop the vast Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul. Work began on the $4.4 billion project last year, with production slated to start in 3 or 4 years, but it is progressing slower than expected.

* The Ministry of Mines now plans to seek tenders for the Hajigak iron deposit, another vast ore reserve expected to cost even more -- $5 billion to $6 billion.

* Afghanistan also hopes to develop oil and gas deposits.

* The government aims to twin foreign investment in mining projects with development of key infrastructure like railways.

* Many of the goods sold in Afghanistan are made in Chinese factories, and there is a steadily growing stream of business travellers between the two nations.

BORDER

* The two share a border but it is only 76 km (47 miles) long, and its lowest point, the Wakhjir Pass, is still at 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) above sea level. There are no roads leading to the border on either side.

* The pass is closed by snow for a large portion of the year, but has been used sporadically for centuries, with Marco Polo supposed to have been one traveller along this route.

* More recently, China has been concerned about drugs and militants seeking independence for its restive western Xinjiang region potentially slipping across the border.

* They agreed last year to study opening a road, though the height of the pass and the remoteness of the area means it is unlikely ever to become a major trade route.

MILITARY

* China has no troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and no interest in sending any to join a conflict in which it feels it has only a limited immediate stake.

* Beijing is wary about the U.S. military presence in neighbouring and nearby countries from South Korea to Kyrgyzstan, and analysts say it is not unhappy to see U.S. and NATO troops bogged down in Afghanistan.

* It has been moving slowly on its only large, committed investment, the Aynak copper mine, and so does not have major financial interests to protect.

* Officials with a wary eye on China's restive Muslim-majority northwest do not want to see their neighbour descend into civil war, or run by a regime friendly to or tolerant of Uighur groups fighting for independence. But they are unlikely to use troops to support their aims.

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