- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2010

BEIJING | China reassured visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday that it won’t be joining the chorus of disapproval at home and abroad over corruption, cronyism and electoral fraud tainting his government.

In a meeting in Beijing, top lawmaker Wu Bangguo told Mr. Karzai that Beijing didn’t see anything to criticize in Afghan politics - a reflection of China’s policy of ignoring the affairs of neighboring states as long as they don’t infringe on Chinese interests.

“I don’t see any differences between us on political issues,” Mr. Wu, the Communist Party’s second-highest ranking official, told Mr. Karzai at the start of their meeting at the Great Hall of the People.

In a joint statement issued at the conclusion of Mr. Karzai’s visit Thursday, China further reaffirmed “the principle of noninterference into other countries’ internal affairs, its respect for Afghanistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, its respect for the Afghan people’s choice of a development road suited to their national conditions.”

While China has no troops in Afghanistan - where Mr. Karzai relies on U.S. and NATO forces to prop up his weak government against the Taliban - its proximity and booming economy make it a valuable partner for the war-battered country.

China is already a major source of consumer goods for the country and while two-way trade totaled just $155 million in 2008, according to Chinese figures, it appears to be growing quickly.

In the joint statement, China pledged to continue assistance to Afghanistan and encourage Chinese companies to take part in construction and development projects in the country.

It said the sides agreed to expand trade, investment, economic cooperation, and technology transfer, focusing on transportation, basic infrastructure, agriculture, irrigation, and mining.

A Chinese company has already pledged $3 billion to tap one of the world’s largest unexploited copper reserves at Aynak in Afghanistan, and is favored to win the rights to iron deposits at Hajigak when bids are considered this year.

Mr. Karzai, traveling with a delegation of Cabinet officials and business figures, on Wednesday oversaw the signing of three agreements boosting economic ties.

Meanwhile, China expressed its anger after the United States transferred two Chinese Uighur brothers, who were being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Switzerland, Reuters news agency reported.

The U.S. Justice Department made the announcement Wednesday. Beijing has in the past demanded that Uighurs held at Guantanamo be returned to China. The U.S. government has said it could not do so because they would face persecution, and has searched for months for countries willing to accept them.

The Uighurs were swept up by the U.S. government during the Afghanistan war launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

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