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China steps up Afghan role as Western pullout nears

KABUL - China and Afghanistan will sign an agreement in the coming days that strategically deepens their ties, Afghan officials say, the strongest signal yet that Beijing wants a role beyond economic partnership as Western forces prepare to leave the country.
China has kept a low political profile through much of the decade-long international effort to stabilize Afghanistan, choosing instead to pursue an economic agenda, including locking in future supply from Afghanistan's untapped mineral resources.As the US-led coalition winds up military engagement and hands over security to local forces, Beijing, along with regional powers, is gradually stepping up involvement in an area that remains at risk from being overrun by Islamist insurgents.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai will hold talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Beijing this week, where they will seal a wide-ranging pact governing their ties, including security cooperation.
Afghanistan has signed a series of strategic partnership agreements including with the United States, India and Britain among others in recent months, described by one Afghan official as taking out "insurance cover" for the period after the end of 2014 when foreign troops leave.
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