Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai pose for photos before their meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, June 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Ralston, Pool)
Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai pose for photos before their meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, June 7, 2012.      — Photo by AP

BEIJING: China’s president pledged “selfless help” to Afghanistan on Friday and the leaders of the two nations agreed to upgrade their ties, as Nato-led forces prepare to withdraw from the war-torn country in 2014.

Hu Jintao told visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai that China would “continue to provide sincere and selfless help to the Afghan side” as it entered “a critical transition period”.

China agreed to provide 150 million yuan ($24 million) in aid to its impoverished neighbour, said a statement in which the two nations agreed to upgrade relations in the political, economic and security spheres.

Afghanistan is preparing for the bulk of the 130,000 Nato troops fighting the Taliban insurgency to withdraw by the end of 2014, and the country’s future was one of the main topics of discussion at a regional security summit in Beijing this week.

China, which shares a small border with Afghanistan’s far northeast, has already secured major oil and copper mining concessions in Afghanistan, which is believed to be sitting on more than $1 trillion worth of minerals.

The scramble for influence in Afghanistan is expected to intensify as 2014 draws nearer, with its central position in a volatile region having shaped its history for centuries.

India, Iran and Pakistan have moved to secure what they see as their interests in the country.

China is positioning itself for a bigger role in Afghanistan following the departure of most US and other international troops at the end of 2014.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a grouping led by China and Russia, set up to counterbalance US and Nato influence in the region, on Thursday granted Afghanistan observer status at the end of the two-day summit.

For its part, Afghanistan reaffirmed Chinese sovereignty over Xinjiang, a region dominated by the Muslim Uighur minority, a Turkic-speaking ethnic grouping with close ties to other Central Asian nationalities.

“The two sides expressed strong rejection of all forms of terrorism, extremism, separatism and organised crimes,” the joint statement said.

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