Afghan Foreign Minister Visits China as Ties Grow

BEIJING -- Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul met with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Tuesday, in the latest sign of deepening ties between the neighbors as the U.S. prepares to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan.

Details of the talks between Rasoul and Yang Jiechi were not immediately available. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu reaffirmed Chinese support for the Afghan government as it struggles to end instability and crushing poverty.

Jiang said China appreciates Afghanistan's "assistance on major issues bearing on China's core interests," a reference to Chinese territorial claims, especially in the restive western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet that border on volatile Central Asia.

Rasoul's four-day visit highlights the growing relations between the countries, which share a narrow land border high in the Pamir Mountains. Chinese companies have planned major investments in Afghanistan's resources industry, especially copper mining.

Ties are expected to continue to grow alongside President Barack Obama's planned drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beginning in July from 100,000 to fewer than 30,000 conventional troops by late 2014. U.S. officials say the pace of the withdrawals depends on the security situation in the country.

China says it opposes a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan, but has joined with its Central Asian neighbors and Russia in counterterrorism drills. In the latest on Friday, forces from China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan practiced hunting down violent separatists along their borders in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Rasoul arrived in Beijing late Monday and is scheduled to meet with Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who is responsible mainly for economic issues.

Further underscoring ties with its neighbors to the West, Beijing is to host Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from May 17 to 20 as part of celebrations of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.