Pakistan deaths show new risks for China

By Zhao Gancheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/13 18:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Two Chinese citizens were kidnapped in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan Province and allegedly killed by the Islamic State (IS) last week.

"The Chinese side is working to learn about and verify relevant information through various channels," according to China's Foreign Ministry.

China does not tend to get involved in other countries' domestic affairs and is not linked with the quagmire in the Middle East, and thus its citizens have normally not been targeted by terrorist groups. However, the number of Chinese kidnapped overseas seems to be increasing in recent years.

Terrorists kidnap citizens for various reasons. Beijing has no intent in meddling in other countries' politics, and thus politics is unlikely to be a motive. However, China, with its growing international influence, is now playing an increasingly active role in the world arena, and as a result, some extremists may target Chinese citizens for ransom or for sensational media impact.

Religion is another motive for abduction. The two Chinese citizens kidnapped were reported to be doing missionary work in Pakistan, and this may offend local religious groups, especially radical ones.

As an increasing number of Chinese enterprises are going global, the likelihood that China falls victim to international terrorist forces is correspondingly rising. With the advancement of Beijing's Belt and Road initiative, a large number of Chinese engineers, workers and citizens are expected to participate in building infrastructure and other economic projects in countries along the route, and thus may be exposed to higher security risks. This doesn't mean that terrorist groups are now targeting China - it's a result of scale. The percentage of Chinese citizens being attacked overseas is not as high as that of foreigners.

It is worth noting that with the rampant activity of IS, religious extremists are seeing expanding clout worldwide and are penetrating into regions with tough security situations, such as South Asia.

Pakistan, in particular, is one of the worst-hit countries by terrorism, and may see a higher number of security incidents. As an intimate friend of China, Pakistan is a pilot country in the Belt and Road initiative, and a destination of a large amount of economic, trade, infrastructure and other projects that China has invested in. Beijing's huge investments in Islamabad are coveted and thus may easily fall victim to terrorist groups.

In addition, Pakistan is known for its poor security record, and has long been a hotbed of international terrorism. This may pose a severe threat to China's projects in the region.

It is a tough task for Beijing to strike a balance between security and the need to go global. With the advancement of the Belt and Road initiative and enhanced regional connectivity, China is expected to put more efforts into relevant security issues. Things will be better if the Chinese government can forge close links and have effective communications with its local partners.

People-to-people interactions are of vital importance. Apart from economic and infrastructure investments, improving effective communications among the two peoples is another significant task for China.

How to react to terrorism groups when asked for ransom is an issue worth attention as well. The US once claimed that it would never pay ransom to kidnappers as this may encourage more kidnappings. Whether Washington's way of handling the issue could be adopted as a universal practice is still hard to say. After all, each country has its respective national condition. Wisdom and time are needed for the Chinese government to find a solution to balance the need to go global and the need to lower the security risks for its citizens.

The author is director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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