Afghan security forces keep watch as smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

The US Defense Department sees room to work with China in the fight against jihadists in Afghanistan, a top Pentagon official told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The comments were made by assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver in response to a question from Democratic Senator Chris Coons about whether China could be a constructive partner in the country.

“I think there is the possibility that China on the counterterrorism front could be a partner. They certainly have their own concerns about terrorism within China and the potential for linkages between terrorist groups operating elsewhere and for that to seep into China,” Schriver said. “Historically, we have run into some difficulties — what they define as a terrorist, particularly inside China and the way we look at things, there’s an important difference there — but they do have an interest in stability in Afghanistan,” he added.

“In our discussions with China, it is an agenda item how we promote our cooperation and how we can ensure that they are a constructive participant in the process that’s underway in Afghanistan,” Schriver said.

In his testimony at the hearing, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan suggested that investments in the country under China’s Belt and Road Initiative might be a motivating factor for China. With respect to economic development, Sullivan said, China has already invested billions of dollars in a copper mine, but they have yet to be able to start production from it.

Also on Tuesday, the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that Washington has launched a series of airstrikes in northern Afghanistan targeting Taliban training facilities, support networks and revenue sources.

“Over the past 96 hours, US forces conducted air operations to strike Taliban training facilities in Badakhshan province, preventing the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan,” US Forces Afghanistan said in a statement.

The news comes after reports early this year that China is testing the waters for its own presence in Afghanistan. Central Asian news agency Ferghana reported in January that China will build a new military base for the Afghan Armed Forces in the northern province of Badakhshan, citing an Afghani defense official.

China’s Defense Ministry denied the report several weeks ago after the story had been picked up by US and Chinese media.