A Chinese diplomat says it is premature to consider if China would provide support for NATO's war effort in Afghanistan, a state newspaper reported Thursday after a senior U.S. official said the alliance might ask Beijing for help.

The China Daily newspaper cited a Chinese diplomat as saying that the communist country shared a common interest with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in fighting terrorism and wanting to see a stable Afghanistan.

However, China's Ambassador to Germany, Ma Canrong, said that more thought was needed to decide whether China should cooperate with the U.S.-led alliance and if so, in what ways.

"There is little link between China and the NATO at the government level," Ma told the newspaper on the sidelines of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a meeting in Beijing of the main legislative advisory body.

Ma was responding to remarks Monday by a U.S. official who said NATO was considering seeking China's help, including possibly opening a supply link for alliance forces.

The subject is still under consideration and no decision has been reached on whether to approach Beijing, the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue.

One way Beijing could help would be to open an alternate logistics route through western China into Afghanistan, the U.S. official said in Brussels.

China shares a 50-mile (76-kilometer)-long border with Afghanistan in the Wakhan Corridor, a thin, sparsely populated strip of Afghan territory separating Pakistan and Tajikistan. The 2,000-year-old-caravan route _ once used by Marco Polo _ is now a dirt road that crosses some of the world's most mountainous regions.

Until now, China _ which also has faced problems with Islamic militants in its western regions _ has generally been supportive of the Afghan government and the U.S.-led allied war effort. But Beijing has shied away from involving itself too closely in the conflict.

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