A deadly suicide bombing targeting Chinese engineers in Pakistan last week has added to concern in Beijing over a worsening security situation in the region.
Two Pakistani children were killed and a Chinese national was one of a number of people injured in the attack on a convoy of vehicles in the Gwadar area of southwest Pakistan on Friday.
The Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist militant organisation, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
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China’s embassy in Islamabad called for an investigation and warned Chinese nationals to avoid public places, and again urged Pakistan to do more on counterterrorism cooperation and security measures.
It comes after a bus blast in Pakistan last month killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals involved in a hydropower project at Dasu. China said it was the biggest attack on Chinese working on its overseas investments in recent years, and Pakistan last week blamed Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies.
Beijing has long been concerned about security in Pakistan, where it has invested billions of dollars and where thousands of Chinese workers are involved in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – including the Gwadar port development – a key project under its belt and road infrastructure scheme.
Andrew Small, a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Asia programme, said the attacks would be a concern for China and that it linked the deteriorating security situation to the chaos in Afghanistan, which neighbours Pakistan.
“The US withdrawal [of troops] and situation around the withdrawal has long been expected to draw heightened security threats to CPEC,” Small said.
After two decades of costly and bloody efforts to support the Afghan government, US troops began leaving Afghanistan in May, and last week the Taliban swept in to complete its takeover of the country.
Pakistan has had a paradoxical role in Afghanistan – accused of providing covert support to the Taliban while playing a supporting role in the US war on terror.
Small said Pakistan’s efforts to increase security around Chinese projects in the past few years did not appear to be working.
Those efforts include military and police protection as well as from private security firms for the estimated 7,000 Chinese working on projects in the country.
“The problem is that this is not a one-off attack. As we can see from the statement from the Chinese embassy [in Pakistan], they are concerned about the overall security environment in Pakistan, they are concerned about all Chinese nationals working on these projects because it has clearly deteriorated,” he said. “It is clearly a worse situation now for Chinese workers around CPEC in the last few months.”
In another attack this year, four people were killed and 11 were injured in April when a car bomb ripped through a parking area outside a hotel where the Chinese ambassador was staying in the Balochistan capital Quetta. The ambassador was unhurt and the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Du Youkang, director of the Centre for Pakistan Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, agreed that the turmoil in Afghanistan would create more instability in the region in the near term.
“But also the Pakistani government is close to the Taliban in Afghanistan, so if the situation settles and becomes more under control then there could even be an improvement in regional stability,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier this year that 46 of the 70 planned CPEC projects – including roads, railways and ports with a combined investment of US$25.4 billion – had been completed. That falls far short of the US$62 billion the CPEC is often valued at, but both Beijing and Islamabad have touted the success of the project.
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