06/09/2012, 00.00
CHINA - CENTRAL ASIA
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Afghanistan, Iran, Chinese aid and Shanghai group

by Wang Zhicheng
Beijing is providing "sincere and selfless help" to Karzai in the form of US$ 24 million to fund infrastructure and scholarships. China is concerned with fundamentalist influence in Xinjiang. It will provide a US$ 10 billion loan for railways, telecommunications and energy pipelines to SCO member states. The group reiterates its opposition to the use of force against Iran, but calls on Iran to be "pragmatic and flexible" in nuclear talks.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a group that includes China, Russia and four Central Asian nations, has granted Afghanistan observer status. Beijing has also pledged immediate aid to Kabul and much more once NATO troops leave the country in 2014. The group has also expressed its opposition to any use of force against Iran, which already has observer status in the organisation.

The two-day meeting in the Chinese capital, which ended yesterday, saw the participation of Turkey as a "partner in dialogue". With the Eurasian country, SCO now embrace countries from the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to Russia and China, SCO includes Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia are observers.

Founded as a security community to fight terrorism, the organisation is now evolving into an area of economic cooperation. Yesterday, China offered a US$ 10 billion loan for economic development to help member states establish railway, telecommunications and energy pipeline links. Member countries have also agreed to boost mutual economic relations.

For Afghanistan, acceptance by SCO is an economic and political windfall. President Hu Jintao told Afghan President Karzai that China would provide "sincere and selfless help" to the beleaguered country, including 150 million yuan (US$ 24 million) in aid this year for infrastructure and scholarships.

The two signed a strategic partnership agreement, under which China said it would encourage Chinese investment.

With NATO planning to pull out from Afghanistan in 2014, China is getting edgy over possible chaos in its western neighbour, as well as an increase in the opium trade and fundamentalism infiltration, especially in Xinjiang.

Hu said that SCO must play a greater in Afghanistan, but Russia excluded any military presence in the country.

During the summit, the Chinese leader met his Iranian counterpart, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. During their talks, Hu asked him to be "pragmatic and flexible" in ongoing nuclear talks.

On 18-19 June, Moscow will host a new round of talks between Iran and the 5+1 group (United States Russia, Great Britain, France, China and Germany) to stop Tehran from developing a programme they suspect might include a nuclear military capability.

Without an agreement, new and tougher financial and trade sanctions will come into effect on 1 July.

Iran has always said that its nuclear programme does not have a military component.

Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh recently announced that his government is ready to counter any fear.

"We are ready," he said, "to remove all the ambiguities and prove to the whole world that our nuclear activities are exclusive[ly] for peaceful purposes".

In a final statement, SCO said that the use of force against Iran because of concerns about its nuclear programme would be unacceptable and would lead to unpredictable circumstances in the region and the world.

 

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