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China, US team up on Central Asia

By Chen Weihua in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-17 11:10

Afghanistan and Pakistan move into focus of cooperative efforts

China and the United States are stepping up cooperation in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the US plans to draw down its military presence next year after nearly 13 years of Afghan war, according to a senior US diplomat.

James Dobbins, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the US is working closely with all of Afghanistan's neighbors, most notably Pakistan, but not at all limited to Pakistan, in an effort to secure regional support for Afghanistan's stabilization and regional integration.

He described the effort as one of making Afghanistan a crossroads and regional hub for trade and investment in the region.

"We've consulted regularly and closely with China on issues related to Afghanistan and Pakistan," Dobbins told a press conference in Washington on Monday.

"We support greater Chinese involvement in the stabilization of Afghanistan and in the economic development of Afghanistan, including investments that China has made and investments that China might make in the future," he said.

Acknowledging that China has a close relationship with Pakistan, Dobbins said Chinese and American interests in this respect are largely aligned.

"I think China, like the United States, is concerned about the growth of violent militancy in the region. China, like the US, would like to see Afghanistan stabilized and no longer becoming a source for potential instability in the region," said Dobbins, who was picked by Secretary of State John Kerry for the job on May 10 of this year and who also served as the George W. Bush administration's first special envoy to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorists attacks.

"The United States and China have collaboration," he said.

Dobbins was joined on Sept 9 by Lu Kang, minister of the Chinese embassy in Washington and Afghan Ambassador to the US Eklil Ahmad Hakimi at a State Department ceremony for a China-US joint training program for 15 young Afghan diplomats. After a two-week training in the US, the group will go to China later this year for the second leg of the program.

"And this is only one of several areas in which the US and China are collaborating in this kind of advisory and capacity-building for the Afghans," Dobbins said.

It is the second year for the training program, which was first unveiled in May of last year at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. Representatives from the Chinese and US embassies in Kabul jointly selected the group of promising Afghan junior diplomats, according to the US State Department.

In his congratulatory letter last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised the program as a successful model for China-US cooperation in a third country.

Wang said the program helps increase understanding between China, the US and Afghanistan and reflects the concerted efforts of the international community in supporting the peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"China is willing to join the US and the international community to continue to do all it can to provide assistance to Afghanistan and to make positive efforts in promoting reconstruction and regional peace, stability and development," Wang said, who will arrive in DC this week for talks with John Kerry.

Bonnie Glaser, senior advisor for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the US has been seeking to promote cooperation with China on Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years.

"So far, some progress has been made on Afghanistan," she said, referring to the establishment of the joint training program for Afghan diplomats.

"There are also plans to establish training programs for nurses and agricultural experts. This is a very good example of how the US and China can engage in 'practical cooperation' to build a new type of major power relationship," Glaser said.

She said through such programs, the US and China can provide assistance to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, build habits of cooperation, and ease regional concerns about US-Chinese strategic competition.

"Cooperation on Pakistan has proven more difficult so far, given China's close ties to that country and US strains with Pakistan," she said.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is skeptical of China and US cooperation on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"China is Pakistan's ally, America has an increasingly difficult and even hostile relationship with Pakistan. Looking ahead, I see two power blocks, China and Pakistan competing with America and India, in Asia," he said.

Peace, security, stability and economic development of the region have been a top concern for the Chinese government.

At last week's Shanghai Cooperation Organization's (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a plan for a Silk Road economic belt that includes mostly nations in Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

SCO, set up in Shanghai in 2001, now has six members of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Mongolia, which now attend as observers, are likely to become members in the coming years.

On Aug 6, a trilateral talk between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan was held in Beijing with pundits and diplomats discussing the prospects of peace, security and stability in the region, especially after the upcoming withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

In April of this year, senior diplomats from China, Russia and Afghanistan gathered in Beijing for a trilateral talk on Afghanistan.

China has maintained close ties with Pakistan for decades. In Afghanistan, China has been active in providing assistance and making investments.

chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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