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Beijing, Kabul Sign Cooperation Pact

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, have moved to strengthen ties between their nations, pledging closer cooperation as NATO-led forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.

In a joint declaration issued in Beijing, China committed to providing $24 million in aid to its war-torn neighbor and to offer assistance on issues ranging from border security to disease control.

In return, Afghanistan has reaffirmed China's sovereignty over the Xinjiang region that is home to a Muslim Uyghur minority.

Beijing, which is looking to play a bigger role in Afghanistan following the Western pullout, has already secured rights to Afghan oil and mineral deposits believed to be worth more than $1 trillion.

India, Iran, and Pakistan have also moved to secure their interests in the country in preparation for the pullout of U.S. and allied troops.

Hu told Karzai during talks in Beijing on June 8 that China would continue to provide what he described as "sincere and selfless help" as Afghanistan entered a "critical transition period."

"At present, Afghanistan has entered into a critical transition period. China is a trustworthy neighbor and friend of Afghanistan," Hu said. "Both now and in the future, China will continue to stay firmly committed to our policy of developing friendly relations with Afghanistan and will continue to provide sincere and selfless help to Afghanistan."

Hu and Karzai earlier this week attended a leaders' meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security bloc bringing together Russia, China, and several Central Asian nations. Afghanistan was granted the status of an SCO observer state at the summit on June 7.

Hu told Chinese media earlier this week that the Shanghai bloc hopes to play a bigger role in Afghanistan.

Karzai was expected to leave China on June 8 after his office said he would cut short his Beijing visit amid reports of up to 18 civilian deaths in a NATO air strike in eastern Afghanistan. Karzai has condemned the reported civilian deaths as "unacceptable."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP