Two Chinese state-run telecommunications companies are helping the Taliban militia install a telephone system in Afghanistan’s capital, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The companies, Zhongxing Telecom and Huawei Technologies, have been working on the telephone system in Kabul for the past two years, said intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The system was described as a switching network to handle up to 130,000 users.
Intelligence reports of the Chinese cooperation contradict Beijing’s claims that no Chinese firms are working in Afghanistan.
Huawei Technologies was identified by U.S. intelligence as one of three Chinese telecommunications companies that violated U.N. sanctions against Iraq by building a fiber-optic communications network there. That network was targeted in U.S. and British bombing raids against Iraqi air-defense sites several months ago.
Zhongxing Telecom has been building telephone networks in Serbia.
Both companies are located in the special economic zone of Shenzhen, China.
Huawei was founded by at least one official of the Chinese military and has developed communications networks for the People’s Liberation Army, according to U.S. officials.
Spokesmen for both companies could not be reached for comment. A Chinese Embassy spokesman also could not be reached.
A State Department official declined to comment on the two companies’ activities in Afghanistan. The official also would not say whether the U.S. government has urged Chinese officials to cut off the activities of Chinese companies working in Afghanistan.
But the official said: “We’re looking for Chinese cooperation against those who are engaged in terrorism and those who harbor and support them.”
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met recently with Tang Jiaxuan, China’s foreign minister. A group of Chinese security officials also held talks with U.S. officials earlier this week about cooperating against the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the talks held Tuesday were “serious and productive,” and identified areas of common interest between the United States and China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao told reporters in Beijing on Sept. 18 that China’s contacts with the Taliban are limited to “the working level.”
“China does not have any kind of formal relations with the Taliban,” he said.
Mr. Zhu said reports that China has assisted in building telephone networks and constructing a dam are “unfounded rumors.”
Mr. Zhu also dismissed reports that a Chinese government delegation concluded an economic and technical assistance agreement with the Taliban on the day of the terrorist attacks on the United States.
Defense and intelligence officials said Beijing appears to be following a dual-track policy of voicing official support for U.S. efforts against terrorism while maintaining other ties to the Taliban militia, the main protector of Osama bin Laden, the principal suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
There have been other reports of Chinese ties to the Taliban and bin Laden.
In August, bin Laden called for “good relations” between Afghanistan and China, saying they were in China’s interest and would reduce U.S. military and economic influence in Asia, according to the Pakistani newspaper Islamabad Ausaf.
The official Iranian government news agency reported in December 1998 that Beijing and the Taliban had concluded a defense cooperation agreement. The agreement followed the Taliban’s help in supplying China with unexploded U.S. cruise missiles fired during attacks against terrorist training camps in August of that year.
The continued Chinese business support for the Taliban is raising questions among some Bush administration national security officials about Beijing’s cooperation in the new effort against terrorism.
Asked about the Chinese government’s expertise in dealing with terrorism, one defense official said: “There’s no doubt they execute terrorists without trial in places like Xinjiang, but whether or not they will help us in fighting terrorism is another story.” Xinjiang is in western China.
China has called for U.S. retaliation against terrorism to be directed by the United Nations.
Domestically, China has been battling Muslim Uighur separatists in Xinjiang who have been engaged in bombing attacks there. China’s government has accused the CIA of supporting the Uighurs.
The Chinese are offering to provide the U.S. government with intelligence on bin Laden, U.S. officials said. But that information is expected to be less reliable than intelligence provided by nations who are friends and allies of the United States.
Two Chinese colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, said in published interviews two days after the U.S. terrorist attacks that the deaths of more than 6,500 Americans from suicide bombings were not only victims of terrorism but “victims of U.S. foreign policy.”
The two colonels are authors of a Chinese military book called “Unrestricted Warfare,” which advocates the use of all forms of warfare and identifies bin Laden as one form of new warrior to be emulated by the Chinese.