Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Britain and China on Wednesday expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan and called for greater international cooperation to deal with it following talks between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the visiting Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Downing Street.

Mr. Wen said China was "closely watching'' the developments in Afghanistan and stressed the need for a strong and independent government in Kabul to unite the country.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his host, Mr Wen said Beijing hoped that "stability'' would return to the region soon. "One of the critical factors to the solution of in Afghanistan is the need for an independent and strong Government which can unite all sections,'' he said, speaking in Chinese.

Mr. Wen pledged his Government's continuing support to the reconstruction of war-ravaged Afghanistan. "China has already provided humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and will continue to do so,'' he said.

Mr. Blair stressed that peace and stability in Afghanistan were critical to world security. It was important to remember that the 9/11 terrorists were trained in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, he said urging Britain's NATO allies to realise that it was their collective responsibility to help Afghanistan in its struggle towards democracy. "NATO countries have a duty to respond to the situation in Afghanistan,'' Mr. Blair said amid a row among NATO members over sending troops to Afghanistan.

Other issues raised included the controversy over Beijing's reported move to impose restrictions on foreign media, and China-U.K. relations.

Foreign media

Mr. Wen said there was a lot of "misunderstanding'' about his government's policy towards foreign media and financial institutions and assured that there had been no change.

"The open policy adopted by the Chinese government regarding foreign news media and financial information agencies operating in China remains unchanged.Information about commerce, finance and economic development will flow freely."