Over a dozen Pakistan nationals arrested in China

CPEC Chinese China Pakistani flags

The ‘all weather friendship’ between Pakistan and China seems to experience more bumpy rides now than ever. The success of any relation is based on mutual trust and respect. Any relation devoid of these two attributes does not last long. Though Pakistan and China tout their friendship as unprecedented, the situation on the ground depicts it otherwise.

Unconfirmed reports suggest the detention of more than a dozen Pakistan nationals by Chinese authorities in Guangzhou province on charges of violating exit and entry laws and regulations. Though both governments are tight-lipped about the incident, it may cause a further dent into their much touted ‘higher than mountains’ and ‘deeper than ocean’ friendship.

There have been several friction points in the past as well between the two countries. Pakistan’s worsening security situation has become a matter of great concern for China, while its financial crisis has put Beijing’s massive investments at risk. Various militant groups in Pakistan have frequently targeted Chinese nationals working there.

In August 2023, a seven vehicle convoy carrying 23 Chinese engineers to the Beijing-financed Gwadar port was attacked. Though no injuries were reported within the convoy, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan, in a strongly worded statement, asked Pakistan authorities to thoroughly investigate the attack and severely punish the perpetrators to prevent similar incidents from happening again. In one
previous such incident in April 2022, three Chinese academics were killed on their way to University of Karachi’s Confucius Institute when a woman suicide bomber blew herself up.

In July 2021, Beijing asked Islamabad to pay $38 million as compensation for deceased Chinese workers and engineers who had died in a bomb blast on July 14, 2021. The bus, carrying a total of 13 people including 9 Chinese engineers headed for Dasu Hydropower project, had fallen into a ravine after colliding with a car full of explosives. Though the Pakistan government had called it an accident due to
mechanical failure of the bus, the Chinese government had claimed it was a terrorist attack targeted at Chinese nationals. Beijing had threatened not to restart the project until the compensation was paid to their workers.

China clearly seems to be nervous about the failing security and financial situation in Pakistan. In February 2023, the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs’ consular department warned its citizens in Pakistan that they may be at high levels of security risk in the country. Soon after, China announced that it was temporarily closing down the consular section of its Embassy in Pakistan due to “technical issues”. Now, with Pakistan’s dwindling forex reserves and massive energy crisis, its ‘all weather’ friend is reluctant to continue its projects leading to delay in many of crucial development projects in Pakistan including the Mainline-1 railway project, the Karachi Circular Railway project, the Azad Pattan hydropower project and the Thar Block-I coal project.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the CPEC, a $65 billion project of network of roads, railways, pipelines, and ports in Pakistan connecting China to the Arabian Sea, has become eyesore for the common man. People of Pakistan thought it would bring prosperity and riches for them. But now, it seems the CPEC is turning out to be albatross neck around Pakistan. From the day the deal was signed, questions have been raised about issues like lack of transparency, hidden terms and conditions of the loans offered, influx of Chinese labourers in Pakistan, mounting debt etc.

In some quarters, Pakistan officials are supposedly secretly blaming the CPEC projects for exacerbating the country’s debt crisis.

In the power sector, cooperation with China has proven to be another disaster for Pakistan. Chinese companies, which are constructing around 27 power plants in Pakistan, have been involved in large scale corruption. Their unethical business practices have cost Pakistan huge losses of around Rs.100bn Pakistani rupees ($625 million) in the power sector.

While China is turning away big ticket investments in Pakistan citing security concerns as well as delay in returns on investment, the delay has escalated cost of projects for Pakistan. Clearly, the trust deficit between the two countries is only increasing day by day.

Xi Lao is a freelance journalist based in Taiwan.

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