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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Afghanistan denies China is building anti-terror training camp in northeast province

Diplomats deny claim in South China Morning Post and say Beijing is helping to set up mountain brigade

China has provided more than US$70 million in military aid to Afghanistan since 2015. Ng Han Guan / AP
China has provided more than US$70 million in military aid to Afghanistan since 2015. Ng Han Guan / AP

The Afghan embassy in Beijing said China is helping to train a mountain brigade to fight terrorism, but denied the country is being allowed to build a training camp in the north-east.

The South China Morning Post reported this week that the Chinese were funding and building a camp for Afghan troops in the Wakhan Corridor, a strip of barren terrain 350 kilometres from the province of Badakhshan, which reaches towards the Muslim region of Xinjiang in China.

The embassy said that while Afghanistan appreciated assistance from Beijing in fighting against terrorism, “there will be no Chinese military personnel of any kind on Afghan soil at any time”.

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The denial came after sources in the Chinese military told the Post that the People’s Liberation Army was likely to send troops to Afghanistan.

This was also denied on Wednesday by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying.

“Construction of the base has started, and China will send at least one battalion of troops, along with weapons and equipment, to be stationed there and provide training to their Afghan counterparts,” the source told the newspaper.

Beijing’s vaunted Belt and Road Initiative trade and infrastructure plan, which aims to revive traditional routes of Chinese influence, encompasses Afghanistan, and a military presence in the country would help to cement President Xi Jinping’s plans for the central Asian region.

The plan for the base was first reported by the Russian news agency Ferghana News in January, which said Beijing would pay for a military base in Badakhshan.

If the reports were confirmed, it would be the second overseas military base for the Chinese, after a facility in Djibouti, described as a military logistics outpost, was opened last year.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military analyst, told the Post that the base would benefit both the Chinese and the Afghans.

“A key function of the training base will be to strengthen anti-terrorism co-operation and military exchanges between Beijing and Kabul, which is also part of their efforts to stop separatists from infiltrating Xinjiang,” said Mr Song.

“Afghanistan is very weak on counterterrorism, and the authorities there are worried about a Taliban resurgence, but they can’t do anything about it without help from the US, China and other countries.”

China has provided more than US$70 million (Dh257m) in military aid to Afghanistan since 2015, according to Ahmad Bilal Khalil, from the Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul.