China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it had appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan, underscoring Beijing's concerns that the withdrawal of NATO troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep.
Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan and India, has been named to the new position and will have “close communication” with Afghanistan and other relevant parties, the ministry said in a statement.
“China and Afghanistan are traditional friendly neighbors. China pays great attention to developments in Afghanistan and is committed to deepening both countries' strategic partnership, and so decided to appoint a special envoy,” it added.
The envoy's appointment will also help “ensure lasting peace, stability and development for Afghanistan and the region,” the ministry said, without providing further details.
China and Afghanistan are connected by a narrow mountainous corridor that is almost impassable and Beijing has traditionally focused on mining and mineral deals in Afghanistan as Western forces battled Taliban insurgents. But officials say that China is emerging as a key strategic player.
One of China's chief worries is that Uighur militants who want a separate state in western China's Xinjiang region will step up their fight by exploiting the security vacuum left after the bulk of NATO forces withdraw by the end of the year.
Hundreds of Uighur fighters are believed to be holed up in rugged, lawless tribal areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.
China has appointed special envoys for troubled regions before, to mixed results.
Its special envoys for Africa and Myanmar have played key roles in regional conflicts, but envoys for the Middle East, where China has less influence, have achieved little.