|BEIJING In a sign of Beijing's increasingly close ties with the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, China has signed a memorandum of understanding for economic and technical cooperation with Kabul, press reports from Afghanistan and Pakistan said. The agreement was reported Tuesday, the same day terrorists hijacked four planes in the United States and drove them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A Chinese delegation signed the deal in Kabul with the Taleban's minister of mining, Mullah Mohammed Ishaq, the news reports said. China's agreement with the Taleban is the most substantial part of a series of contacts that Beijing has had with Afghanistan over the last two years. Of all non-Muslim countries, Beijing now has the best relationship with the isolated regime in Kabul in the world, a senior Western diplomat said. While Beijing is not believed to be violating any United Nations-imposed sanctions in its dealings with the Taleban, the contacts have disturbed high-ranking officials from the West and some of China's central Asian neighbors. Several senior officials in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, in recent interviews, said they worried that Beijing was trying to curry favor with Kabul at the same time it made a public show of opposing terrorism which seemed to be supported by Afghanistan. China has helped form the Shanghai Cooperative Organization that joins Russia and three central Asian nations in a loose grouping. One of its main purposes is to combat cross-border terrorism and it is specifically aimed at Afghanistan. At the same time, China is quietly dealing with the Taleban as part of an effort to convince its officials to close Afghan-based camps that are used to train Muslim separatists from China's restive Xinjiang region. Those separatists on occasion re-enter China and launch attacks on China's security services or on civilian targets. As part of a sweetener, Asian diplomats say, China has dangled the prospect of providing Afghanistan with much needed help on its infrastructure and economic development. In 2000, two Chinese telecommunications firms, Huawei Technologies and ZTE, signed contracts to provide limited phone service for Kabul and Kandahar, near where the suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is supposedly based, regional press reports and diplomatic sources said. Asian and Western diplomats earlier this year identified Huawei as one Chinese firm that was involved in helping Iraq bolster its air defenses by selling it communications equipment. Chinese engineers have also held negotiations with Taleban officials about renovating an American-built power station, according to an Asian diplomat. Meanwhile, a Taleban-led business delegation came to Beijing earlier this year. In addition, political contacts between China and the Taleban government have grown. In November 2000, a delegation from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, an influential think-tank run by the Ministry of State Security, visited Kabul and Kandahar. China's ambassador to Pakistan has also made at least one recent trip to Kabul and met with Taleban officials in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, Asian diplomatic sources said. . "China has got to make a decision and a decisive one on Afghanistan," said one senior diplomat. "It can play both sides against the middle and anger the West and other countries, or it can really work multilaterally to resolve the terrorism problem. Who knows which course it will take."