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China's role in Afghanistan called mainly commercial

| Monday, July 21, 2014, 5:57 p.m.

BEIJING — China does not seek to fill a void left in Afghanistan by the withdrawal of U.S. troops but will play a “huge” commercial role in helping rebuild the country, a newly appointed Chinese special envoy said on Monday.

China, which is connected to Afghanistan by a narrow, almost impassable mountain corridor, has been quietly preparing for more responsibility there after the bulk of troops pull out by the end of this year.

Western officials have said China is likely to emerge as a strategic player in Afghanistan, but Sun Yuxi, who was appointed special representative to the country on Friday, said China's involvement would remain largely commercial.

“This idea about filling a void after the withdrawal of troops, I think it doesn't exist,” Sun said before heading to Afghanistan on Tuesday for talks.

Some Western officials have criticized China for piggy-backing off the security operation that has eliminated an al-Qaida enclave on China's doorstep and opened Afghanistan's resources to international exploitation.

China's commitment to Afghan reconstruction since the ouster of a hardline Islamist regime in 2001 has been a relatively paltry $250 million, and its security support has been mostly limited to counter-narcotics training.

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