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China denies reports it plans to set up base, troops in Afghanistan

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to deputies at the 13th National People's Congress in Beijing on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

China is denying reports that it plans to deploy troops or establish a military base in Afghanistan, saying it is merely engaged in “normal military and security cooperation” with its neighbor.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Wu Qian said on August 30 that reports in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper and elsewhere that Beijing has plans to station hundreds of People’s Liberation Army soldiers at a base in eastern Afghanistan are “simply not true.”

China shares a narrow border with Afghanistan in the remote Wakhan Corridor region, and is wary that the war-torn country’s violence could spill into its restless Xinjiang region.

In recent years, hundreds of people have been killed in that far western region of China in unrest that Beijing has blamed on Islamist militants.

Unconfirmed reports recently have shown what appear to be Chinese military vehicles operating in the Wakhan Corridor, which lies in the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains, with Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south.

However, Wu said China is only in the region to help Afghanistan bolster counterterrorism efforts and protect its common border with China.

“China and Afghanistan have normal military and security cooperation,” he told reporters at a monthly briefing in Beijing.

“China and the international community are all supporting Afghanistan to strengthen its defense and counterterrorism building efforts,” he said.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to China, Janan Mosazai, on August 30 also denied reports that have repeatedly said China is seeking a military presence in Afghanistan.

He said that Beijing is helping Afghanistan set up a mountain brigade to bolster counterterrorism operations, but that no Chinese troops would be stationed in the country.

“While the Afghan government appreciates this Chinese assistance, and our two militaries are working in close coordination on utilizing this assistance, there will be no Chinese military personnel of any kind involved in this process on Afghan soil,” Mosazai said.

Co-Sponsoring Peace Efforts

Last year, China opened its first overseas military base, in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti. It has previously denied having plans for other overseas bases, but the United States expects it to build more, with Pakistan a possible location.

While denying any military expansion plans in Afghanistan, China has openly sought to increase its presence in other ways there, including by co-sponsoring peace efforts with the Taliban, after 17 years of Western involvement that has left the country still at war.

Along with Pakistan, Iran, and Russia, China through military and economic assistance has seen its influence growing in Afghanistan. But the United States still pays most of NATO’s $6.5 billion in annual support for Afghan National Security Forces, which are struggling to contain a reenergized Taliban this year.

China, which imports massive amounts of copper, iron, and other raw materials from around the world to fuel its factories, has taken an interest in Afghanistan’s sizable Mes Aynak copper deposit, which is believed to contain about 450 million tons of the metal worth tens of billions of dollars.

But poor security and economic chaos in Afghanistan have prevented much progress in developing the mine, which also sits on an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage site.