SCO can play 'bigger role' in Afghanistan

Updated: 2011-12-06 08:21

By Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)

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BONN, Germany - China wants the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to play a bigger role in Afghanistan's peace and reconstruction process, said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Yang made the call in his speech at the International Afghanistan Conference in the German city of Bonn on Monday, where he also pledged that China would continue to "take concrete steps" to help Afghanistan.

"The role of the SCO and other existing international organizations in the cooperation mechanisms should be brought into full play," Yang said.

"Peace and stability in Afghanistan is crucial to the peace and stability of the region and beyond."

This is by far the clearest and strongest message from China for a bigger role for the SCO in Afghanistan, compared to previous official statements which called for the SCO to "offer help" to Afghanistan's peace and reconstruction.

The Bonn conference focused on the transfer of security responsibilities from international forces to Afghan security forces during the next three years, the long-term prospects for international aid and a possible political settlement with the Taliban.

As most of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is due to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the Afghan National Army will assume responsibility for the fight against the insurgents, mainly based in south of the country and in areas bordering Pakistan.

Asking the international community to "firmly support" an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconstruction, Yang said the United Nations should "continue to play a leading role in coordinating international assistance to Afghanistan.

"The international community should fully respect and accommodate the legitimate concerns of countries in the region," he added.

Yang's call for the SCO to play a bigger role in Afghanistan came as Kabul is expected to soon gain observer status in the organization.

Founded in Shanghai in June 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO is an inter-governmental international organization that focuses on fighting terrorism, extremism and separatism, as well as creating regional prosperity.

China, as "a friendly neighbor and a responsible member of the international community", will "continue to take concrete steps to help Afghanistan", Yang said.

"We will support the development of resources, transport, energy, infrastructure and other sectors in Afghanistan," he added.

Yang's speech followed that of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the first working session of the conference, an arrangement highlighting the international community's high hopes that China can play a role in Afghanistan's transition to a normal state.

China has played an active role in helping Afghanistan's reconstruction since the US-led ISAF started its operations in the country in late 2001.

Beijing has offered at least $2.5 billion in aid to Kabul since 2002. It has also built various hospitals, schools and irrigation systems in Afghanistan.

China Metallurgical Corp won the right in 2007 to mine the country's biggest known copper deposit, at Aynak, south of Kabul. The $3.5 billion deal is also the biggest ever foreign investment in Afghanistan.

In terms of security and capacity building, China in 2009 provided demining training to dozens of ANA soldiers in Nanjing.

Beijing also helped Afghanistan train more than 200 officials in fields such as diplomacy, human resource management and leadership between 2007 and 2008.

"The international community should firmly support Afghanistan in developing external relations on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, especially in enhancing good neighborly relations and mutual political trust with other countries in the region," Yang said.

The international community should fully respect and accommodate the legitimate concerns of countries in the region, he added.

Monday's Bonn Conference was the 11th major international gathering on Afghanistan's future, but was the first to be chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

About 100 countries and international organizations were represented among the 1,000 conference delegates, with some 60 foreign ministers in attendance. But the event was overshadowed by Pakistan's absence.

Pakistan pulled out of the conference to protest over last month's NATO air assault, carried out from Afghan territory, that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.