China on Friday played down security concerns over its economic corridor passing through Pakistan after it emerged that two of its nationals were killed by Islamic State militants in the restive Balochistan province.
A Chinese man and a woman – teaching Mandarin in Balochistan, a region at the centre of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – were kidnapped from Jinnah Town area of Quetta in the last week of May, triggering alarm in Beijing.
“According to information from Pakistan, they (the two) may have already been unfortunately killed,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.
She said the incident would not have any impact on the security of projects being constructed under the CPEC.
The IS claimed responsibility for the abduction-murder of the Chinese nationals though its Amaq news agency on Thursday, hours after the Pakistan Army said it had conducted a three-day operation against IS-linked fighters in Balochistan.
“We strongly condemn all forms of terrorism and support Pakistan in its fight (against terrorism) and for peace and tranquillity in the region and beyond,” Hua said.
Hua clarified the two Chinese nationals were not a “couple” and were from different provinces. She had earlier said the government was “gravely concerned” when initial reports of the duo’s death came in.
“I think this incident has no connection with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organistion (SCO) meeting (in Astana),” Hua said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana on the margins of the SCO summit that began on Friday.
The BRI is a larger Chinese project creating an international trade corridor of which the CPEC is a part.
Hua said China is prepared for the risks involved in the BRI. “The world today is far from a tranquil place. It is inevitable that we will encounter risks (in the BRI). The BRI requires the concerted efforts of all parties concerned,” she said.
She added that the Chinese government had advised its citizens not to visit “highly risky” regions but did not say any specific travel advisory will be issued for Pakistan.
Pakistan, she said, had made great efforts to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals working in the country.
But the killings highlight the risks involved in building the CPEC, which will connect China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the southern coast of Balochistan.
The Chinese state media had noted the risks involved in the CPEC following the abduction. The Global Times tabloid said in an article that it was “worth noting that Islamic militants have often carried out abductions of foreigners on Pakistani soil, either for ransom or to get publicity for their cause. Chinese people have also been targeted occasionally, despite the friendly relations between the two countries.”
It added, “But the restive region has seen frequent violence committed by Islamic terrorists and separatists and the Belt and Road program is often be exposed to potential threats. Last year, a Chinese engineer was injured in a bomb attack in southern Pakistan and a separatist group, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they were targeting the CPEC.”
A recent report by a Chinese university had referred to India’s so-called role in trying to destabilise the CPEC.
The CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and India has repeatedly raised concerns over it with China.
“India is most anxious about the construction of the CPEC and the opening and operation of the Gwadar port by China,” said the report compiled by scholars from Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies and Caijing magazine after a two-week field trip to CPEC sites including Gwadar port and the Bin Qasim coal-fired plant.