China verifying video of Taliban hostage

By Jiang Jie and Fan Lingzhi Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-26 0:28:01

Citizens warned off visiting troubled areas

China is still working to verify the authenticity of footage reportedly showing a Chinese national being held hostage in Pakistan, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan told the Global Times Monday, after a video went viral featuring the hostage asking authorities to meet a ransom demand.

The Associated Press reported that it received the video from a militant known to belong to a Taliban splinter group called Jaish al-Hadeed, or the "Contingent of Steel." The man appearing in the video resembled existing online photos of Chinese cyclist Hong Xudong, who was kidnapped in northwest Pakistan in May 2014.

In the video, the man asks the Chinese government to meet the ransom demand but did not mention a specific amount. He also said that the Taliban have told him that he would be killed if it is not paid.

Acquaintances of Hong reached by the Global Times said that they are also waiting for the official confirmation on the identity of the man in the video.

"He looks a bit different in the video screenshot. Be it Hong or not, I hope he can be saved," Hong's high school roommate Liang Meng, who is also a cyclist, told the Global Times.

Hong, who comes from central China's Hubei Province, was believed to be abducted on May 19 in the town of Daraban on the outskirts of the Dera Ismail Khan district, which borders Pakistan's restive tribal regions. Pakistani police said that they found his passport, bicycle and belongings, AFP reported.

A Pakistani Taliban group commander, Abdullah Bahar, later claimed responsibility for the kidnap and said then the group would use the hostage to get comrades freed from Pakistani custody.

"It is a good sign now that the Taliban group demands a ransom instead of the hostage exchange. They have to bring down their requirements since it would be hard for Pakistan - which has been tough on terrorism - to accept political blackmail," Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

Li added that it is highly likely that the hostage can be freed by paying the ransom. "Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, Taliban groups in Pakistan are armed tribes in a loose union. Kidnappers in this case do not appear to be holding a strong political appeal. It is more likely that they aim for the ransom," he said.

Wang Guoxiang, an associate professor at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that this is not the first time the Taliban has targeted Chinese nationals and in Afghanistan alone, at least 20 Chinese were killed in 2014.

Two Chinese engineers were kidnapped by Taliban militants in Pakistan in 2008. One escaped, but the other one was freed after nearly 167 days as a hostage. Three Chinese nationals were kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan in August 2013, according to media reports.

"It is always the embassy that organizes negotiations through elders of a third-party tribe to settle a hostage crisis, usually with a ransom payment. However, the released video feels like a provocative gesture as it gives China a dilemma. A direct ransom payment would not only look like a compromise to international terrorism, but may also encourage terrorists at home," Wang said.

Meanwhile, both analysts pointed out that terrorist threats and similar hostage crises will continue to haunt China as its businesses and citizens go overseas.

"Apart from voicing opposition to terrorism, China also needs global cooperation on terrorism, which requires a higher level of political mutual trust - this is something we lack when cooperating with some Western countries," Wang said.

However, Li warned that individuals may not be better-protected under strengthened international cooperation on terrorism, urging Chinese citizens to avoid visiting unstable regions.

"Any cyclists should know that northwestern Pakistan is a no-pass zone, but an increasing number of people are lured to 'prove themselves' by some chicken soup travel books," Li Rui, a famous cyclist from Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

Online posts written by Hong's friends after Hong lost contact said that Hong entered Pakistan via India in April and was planning to head for Iran, which looked "random and carelessly planned" according to Li.

Taliban groups have kidnapped people from many countries, including the US, South Korea, Poland and Switzerland. Some were released with ransom payment or through negotiation, but they beheaded the Polish engineer in 2009 when the Pakistani government failed to release Taliban prisoners as the group demanded.

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