Back greater role for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Officials from China, Russia and Pakistan on Wednesday held talks here to coordinate their positions on Afghanistan and said they would back the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) grouping to play a greater role as Nato forces prepare to withdraw in 2014.

The talks followed a similar meeting India, China and Russia held in Moscow recently, reflecting the delicate balancing act — and increasingly complicated regional dynamics — as different countries look to push their interests in the lead up to 2014.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement here the talks were held to “enhance coordination”. The statement said as “close neighbours of Afghanistan”, they would “make concerted efforts to maintain peace, stability and security” and would “support the reconciliation process of the country run by Afghans themselves”.

They also agreed to support the China and Russia-led SCO grouping “to play a bigger role”, as Nato forces withdraw. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are observer countries in the grouping, which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Wednesday’s talks were only the latest of a number of recent regional initiatives to grapple with the situation in Afghanistan.

China recently proposed a bilateral engagement with India on the issue, with talks expected to be held later this month. India, China and Russia also have a trilateral mechanism to coordinate their positions, reflecting the heightened engagement — and sense of concern — in the lead up to 2014.

Role of China

China has so far largely limited its role to investing in infrastructure and resource projects. Last year, however, China signed an agreement to train around 300 Afghan police officers.

The deal was seen by some analysts as an indication of an increasing willingness from China to gradually expand its role, though the agreement’s limited scope reflected Beijing’s hitherto cautious approach.

The security deal was struck during a visit by former Politburo Standing Committee member and security chief Zhou Yongkang, who, last year, became the senior-most official to visit the country in close to 50 years.

China’s primary concern is ensuring stability and the safety of its sizeable investments in mines and oil fields following the 2014 withdrawal. According to Chinese media reports, China’s direct investment exceeded $200 million by the end of 2011, with a further $600 million worth of projects under contract.

A secondary worry is the spread of terrorism and instability to China’s far-western Xinjiang region, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Chinese authorities in Xinjiang recently jailed 20 Uighurs — the local ethnic Turkic Muslim group native to Xinjiang — and claimed that some of them had illegally crossed the border. Chinese officials say some Uighur groups have ties to extremist groups in Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

During his visit last year, Mr. Zhou said China was “willing to make due contributions to peace and stability in Afghanistan” which he described as being “at a critical transition period”. “We will continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan with no attached conditions”, he said, “and sincerely hope the Afghan people can regain peace as soon as possible and build a better home in a peaceful environment”.

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