The Star Online
April 1, 2004
Shanghai: China has agreed to write off debts owed by Afghanistan as part of efforts to shore up relations with its war-torn neighbor, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.
The report didn’t give the size of the debt, but previous reports had put it in the tens of millions of dollars dating back decades.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and his Afghan counterpart Abdullah signed off on the debt forgiveness Wednesday at a conference on Afghan reconstruction in Germany, Xinhua said.
“China supports national reconciliation and postwar construction in Afghanistan and is willing to strengthen overall bilateral cooperation,” Xinhua cited Li as saying.
He said China was glad to see that peace and reconstruction efforts in the country have made “positive headway.”
China has in recent years forgiven hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to allies – many of them impoverished nations in Africa.
While much of that debt was likely unrecoverable anyway, formally writing it off allows China to appear magnanimous and bolsters its stature as a leader among developing nations.
Following the removal of the Islamic Taliban militia, China moved quickly to establish strong relations with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Beijing flew in planeloads of aid supplies and advisers and swiftly reopened its embassy in Kabul, which was closed during 1993 Afghan factional fighting.
China shares a sliver of border high in the Karakoram mountains with Afghanistan, and has said it wants to prevent the country from becoming a haven for militants seeking independence for China’s restive western Muslim region of Xinjiang.
China claims independence forces had links to the Taliban, and has called them a link in global terrorism.
China governs Xinjiang with a heavy hand, and critics accuse Beijing of labeling as terrorists many peaceful activists who advocate greater rights for the area’s ethnic Uighur population.
China has already pledged US$150 million in aid to Afghanistan spread over five years, part of which has been earmarked for rebuilding hospitals and an irrigation system.