Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 27 March 2024


 Pakistan Blast Kills Chinese Foreigners

Chinese workers in Asia and Africa have been attacked as Beijing extends reach

At least five Chinese nationals were killed in northern Pakistan on Tuesday when a car packed with explosives hit their van, Pakistani officials said, the latest in a string of attacks that have targeted Chinese interests in the country.

The attack highlights the increasing security challenges China faces in countries such as Pakistan, a major recipient of Chinese investment. As Beijing has sought to extend its influence globally, Chinese workers in Asia and Africa have come under attack. In Pakistan, local insurgents have targeted Chinese construction sites, citizens and symbols.

Pakistan’s interior ministry said the incident was a suicide attack. A police officer in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the attack occurred, said some remains of the attacker were found.

The Chinese nationals killed were on their way to a dam-construction project when they were attacked, said the Chinese embassy in Islamabad. A Pakistani driver also was killed.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi condemned the attack and voiced support for Beijing and the families of those killed.

“The enemy has targeted citizens of a very reliable friend of Pakistan,” Naqvi said on the social-media platform X. “This isn’t an attack on the Chinese, but on Pakistan’s most trusted friend. We will respond in a hard manner.”

Beijing is the world’s largest lender to the developing world, mainly through the Belt and Road infrastructure program since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power. The country has faced criticism that it is pursuing lopsided lending deals that drive developing nations into heavy debt without necessarily boosting the local economy.

The security of thousands of Chinese workers has become a sensitive issue in Pakistan, a showcase for Chinese development investment where Beijing has spent billions on roads, ports and power plants. Pakistan’s precarious finances also rely on lending from China and other allies, as well as from the International Monetary Fund. Islamabad has dedicated thousands of soldiers to protecting Chinese projects and personnel.

China “requires Pakistan to conduct a thorough investigation of the attack and severely punish the perpetrators, while at the same time taking measures to protect the safety of citizens, institutions and projects in Pakistan,” the embassy said. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it would continue to work closely with China on security for Chinese people and projects. In 2022, a Pakistani woman blew herself up outside the gate of Karachi University’s Chinese language institute, killing three Chinese teachers and a Pakistani driver. The Baloch Liberation Army, the deadliest separatist group in the southwestern province of Balochistan, claimed responsibility. The province is home to the strategic Gwadar port that is at the center of Beijing’s investment program in Pakistan.

Separately, the army said it thwarted two major attacks by militants in Balochistan in the past week, including an attempt to storm a part of the Gwadar port complex.

Pakistan has seen its overall security situation deteriorate sharply since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2021. The country has experienced attacks on its security forces by Pakistani militants Islamabad has said are based over the border. Kabul has denied the allegations it harbors those or other militants.

Officials inspect the wreckage of a van that was carrying Chinese workers to a dam-construction site in Pakistan. AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE/ GETTY IMAGES

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