Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday said that his country and Pakistan will look at extending their $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. This would-be part of the China’s ambitious Belt and Road plan linking China with Asia, Europe and beyond, Wang said after the trilateral meeting with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts Salahuddin Rabbani and Khawaja Asif, respectively.
Afghanistan has an 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.
“So China and Pakistan are willing to look at with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan,” he said.
How that could happen needs the three countries to reach a gradual consensus, tackling easier, smaller projects first, Wang said, without giving details.
Pakistan’s Asif also talked about the corridor but did not directly mention the prospect of Afghanistan joining the corridor.
“The successful implementation of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) projects will serve as a model for enhancing connectivity and cooperation through similar projects with neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Iran and with central and west Asia,” he said.
China on Tuesday expressed willingness to “improve relations” between Pakistan and Afghanistan during the first trilateral dialogue between China, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s foreign ministers which was held in Beijing, ToloNews reported.
The trilateral meet is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s initiative to strengthen relations and develop cooperation between the three neighbouring countries.
According to ToloNews, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that cordial relations between Islamabad and Kabul are in the interest of Afghanistan as well as the whole region.
“China aims to improve relations between the two countries. We will also be present at the Kabul Process meeting which is going to be held in February,” Yi said while speaking to the media after the trilateral discussion, ToloNews reported.
Yi also said that China had agreed to help Afghanistan in the peace process, and that Pakistan would take “practical action” with respect to the Afghan peace process, according to ToloNews.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, during his media talk, said that Afghanistan and Pakistan are two strong brothers.
“Pakistan urges for border management and solving the refugees issues with Afghanistan,” ToloNews quoted Asif as saying.
According to Radio Pakistan, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said the three foreign ministers had an in-depth exchange on mutual political trust, reconciliation, development, counter-terrorism efforts and security cooperation between Pakistan, China and Afghanistan.
Chunying said that as a common neighbour and friend of Afghanistan and Pakistan, China has always supported friendly cooperation between the two countries and their common development.
Earlier, on the sidelines of the dialogue, Khawaja Asif also held a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Yi.
The ministers from the three countries also agreed to work together to tackle the threat of terrorism tied to China’s vast western Xinjiang region.
China depends on Afghanistan and Pakistan to help control Xinjiang’s borders, where analysts say Beijing’s repressive policies have engendered riots and militant 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.
The Chinese foreign minister 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 neighbouring 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 militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility for killing them.
Pakistan said at the time that the two had been engaged in illegal preaching.