'China could prove ultimate winner in Afghanistan', says report
China, a witness to the conflict in Afghanistan, is stepping up its involvement in the country as U.S.-led forces are preparing to withdraw.
China's move comes after being attracted by the country's vast mineral resources, but concerned that any post-2014 chaos could embolden Islamist insurgents in its own territory.
Cheered on by the U.S. and other Western governments, which see Asia's giant as a potentially stabilizing force, China could prove the ultimate winner in Afghanistan, having shed no blood and not much aid, the Japan Times reports.
Lack of security still remains a key challenge. Chinese enterprises have already won three multibillion-dollar investment projects, but they will not be able to go forward unless conditions get safer there.
According to the report, Beijing signed a strategic partnership last summer with the war-torn country. This was followed in September with a trip to Kabul by its top security official, the first by a leading Chinese government figure in 46 years, and the announcement that China would train 300 Afghan police officers.
China is also showing signs of willingness to help negotiate a peace agreement as NATO prepares to pull out in two years, the report said.
Over the past decade, China's trade has boomed with Afghanistan's resource-rich neighbors in Central Asia.
For Turkmenistan, China trade reached 21 percent of GDP in 2011, up from 1 percent five years earlier, according to an analysis of International Monetary Fund data.
The equivalent figure for Tajikistan is 32 percent of GDP, versus 12 percent in 2006. China's trade with Afghanistan stood at a modest 1.3 percent of GDP in 2011.
The Chinese are also showing interest in investing in hydropower, agriculture and construction. Preliminary talks have been held about a direct road link to China across the remote 76-km-long border between the two countries, according to Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry.
Wang Lian, a Central Asia expert at Beijing University, notes that superpowers have historically been involved in Afghanistan because it is an Asian crossroads, and China would be no exception.
He said that a stable Afghanistan is vital to the security of Xinjiang in the far west of China, where Islamic militants are seeking independence.
The Afghan government has backed off from earlier criticism that the Chinese were not contributing their share to security and reconstruction of the country, the report added.