Three nations eye $57 billion economic corridor


BEIJING: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (center), Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (left) and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif take part in a joint press conference after the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue yesterday. —AFP

BEIJING: Ministers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and China met in Beijing yesterday where they agreed to work together to tackle the threat of terrorism tied to China’s vast western Xinjiang region. The first trilateral meeting of foreign ministers from the countries comes as China steps up its investment in its neighboring nations as part of its trillion-dollar One Belt One Road investment initiative. China depends on Afghanistan and Pakistan to help control Xinjiang’s borders, where analysts say Beijing’s repressive policies have engendered riots and terrorist attacks by members of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority that calls the area home, although China disputes the claim.

Beijing regularly accuses exiled Uighur separatist groups such as the shadowy East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of orchestrating attacks in resource-rich Xinjiang and other parts of China. It has expressed concern about Uighur militants finding sanctuary in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and without any distinctions of any sort,” said Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani after the meeting. Afghanistan will continue its “resolute fight against ETIM and their support groups and networks, and overall counterterrorism cooperation”, he added.

China has long pushed the international community for support in addressing the problem, which it says stems from the infiltration of “radical” religious groups into Xinjiang. In response, Beijing has placed strict controls on religious practice in the region, turning it into a virtual police state, in a campaign that analysts say has enflamed separatist sentiment. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said the three parties had reached complete consensus in fighting terrorism, adding that China would also “fully leverage” Xinjiang as a base for economic cooperation with the bordering countries.

China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project seeks to revive ancient trade routes, including a massive overland network stretching through Xinjiang and neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan towards Europe. China’s expanding economic presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan has also brought some terrorism related setbacks. This summer two Chinese citizens travelling on business visas to Pakistan were kidnapped in Quetta, the provincial capital of mineral-rich Balochistan province. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for killing them. Pakistan said at the time that the two had been engaged in illegal preaching.

China and Pakistan will look at extending their $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan, Chinese Foreign Minister said yesterday, part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road plan linking China with Asia, Europe and beyond. China has tried to position itself as a helpful party to promote talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan, both uneasy neighbors ever since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Their ties have been poisoned in recent years by Afghan accusations that Pakistan is supporting Taleban insurgents fighting the US-backed Kabul in order to limit the influence of its old rival, India, in Afghanistan.

Pakistan denies that and says it wants to see a peaceful, stable Afghanistan. Speaking after the first trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Wang said China hoped the economic corridor could benefit the whole region and act as an impetus for development. Afghanistan has urgent need to develop and improve people’s lives and hopes it can join inter-connectivity initiatives, Wang told reporters, as he announced that Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to mend their strained relations.- Agencies