BEIJING – China on Thursday denied reports that it plans to deploy troops to Afghanistan, saying the neighbors are engaged merely in "normal military and security cooperation."
Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian said reports in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper and elsewhere that hundreds of People's Liberation Army soldiers are to man 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 of the country's violence and chronic instability overflowing into its restless Xinjiang region.
However, Wu said China, like other nations, is helping Afghanistan increase its defense capabilities, particularly in the area of counterterrorism.
"China and Afghanistan have normal military and security cooperation," he told reporters at a monthly briefing.
Afghanistan's ambassador to China, Janan Mosazai, said this week 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.
China has sought to increase its presence in Afghanistan, including in dialogue with the Taliban, after 17 years of Western involvement that has left the country still at war.
Along with Pakistan, Iran and Russia, it is gaining a growing influence even as the United States spends billions of dollars covering much of the $6.5 billion spent annually to support the Afghan National Security Forces, which are struggling to contain an energized Taliban.
Despite the denials of Chinese military activity in the area, unconfirmed reports 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.
Along with military assistance, China has provided equipment and training to Afghanistan's government as it seeks to secure the border and gain economic benefits within the country. Those include the Mes Aynak copper deposit, believed to contain about 450 million tons of the metal worth tens of billions of dollars.
Poor security and economic chaos in the country have prevented progress in moving forward on the mine, which also sits on an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Associated Press writer Gillian Wong contributed to this report.