BEIJING: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Afghanistan's new president began a visit to Beijing on Tuesday seeking Chinese help in rebuilding his country and promoting regional stability.
Ghani received pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also plans to urge potential investors to help bankroll Afghanistan's development, especially its mining industry.
A Chinese state company has already signed a $3 billion deal to develop a five million-ton copper deposit at Mes Aynak, near Kabul, but pulled its workers out last year after they came under Taliban fire.
The trip is Ghani Ahmadzai's first state visit abroad since taking office last month, underscoring his desire for closer ties with Afghanistan's massive neighbour. He is already highly familiar with China from his days as a World Bank official working in the country.
In opening remarks, Xi assured Ghani of China's friendship and support, saying he is willing to work toward “a new era of cooperation in China-Afghanistan relations and take development to a new depth and breadth.”
Ghani Ahmadzai told Xi that Afghanistan's development goals are closely aligned with China's promotion of regional cross-border economic development.
“We feel that our vision of Afghanistan as a hub of regional trade, transit and peace would be an illustration of your vision of East Asia and South Asia cooperation,” he said.
To facilitate closer ties, Afghanistan would like to a see a transport link opened along the 76-kilometer (47-mile) border between the Wakhan Corridor and China's far western Xinjiang region, Ghani Ahmadzai said.
The presidents also presided over the signing of four agreements, including ones on economic and technical cooperation.
China pledged to provide 2 billion yuan ($330 million) in grants to Afghanistan through 2017 and provide professional training for 3,000 Afghans over the next five years, Kong Xuanyou, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Asia department, said after the signing ceremony.
Other assistance includes humanitarian materials worth 30 million yuan ($5 million) and the extension of 500 government scholarships to Afghans over the next five years, Kong said.
China, which maintained contacts with the former Taliban government in the 1990s, is also willing to play a constructive role in promoting reconciliation between all parties in Afghanistan, Kong said. China's importance to Afghanistan is expected to expand further after US and allied combat troops leave by the end of the year, illustrating Kabul's desire to end its dependency on the West.
For its part, China is concerned about instability spilling over into Xinjiang, where radicals among the native Uighur population have launched a series of attacks in recent months.
Afghanistan hopes Chinese investment will help make mining a cornerstone of its economy. Although it has an estimated $3 trillion worth of natural resources, including copper, iron ore, silver, gold, coal, gems and minor metals such as chromite, little has been exploited because of warfare and a lack of infrastructure.
China is already active in oil production in the north of Afghanistan.
On Friday, Ghani Ahmadzai is to attend this year's Istanbul Ministerial Process, a regional dialogue on security, economic and political cooperation hosted by China for the first time.
The forum brings together Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. The US, Britain, other Western countries and international organisations attend as observers.