The former editor of China’s state-owned Global Times has called for Beijing to undertake airstrikes against Pakistan-based militants, who have been increasingly targeting Chinese nationals in the country in recent years.
This comes after a suicide attack in Pakistan on April 26 that killed three Chinese citizens while on their way to Confucius Institute in Karachi, a Chinese government-run body. The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group fighting for the independence of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.
This is the latest in a series of attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, who in recent years have been targeted more frequently by the Baloch Separatist militants because of China’s involvement in large infrastructure projects across Pakistan, including the resource-rich Balochistan province.
In 2015, China announced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a project worth $46 billion, which aims to link Pakistan’s southern Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea, 626 kilometers west of Karachi, to China’s western Xinjiang region via a series of road, rail, and pipelines which pass through Balochistan region that has been for years mired by a violent separatist movement led by the BLA.
Increasing Attacks Against Chinese Nationals
Balochistan is one of the poorest regions in Pakistan and locals have accused China and the Pakistan Army of forcefully taking over their land and resources without sharing the benefits which has prompted the build-up of resistance against the huge Chinese presence that comes with these mega infrastructure projects.
In 2020, 9 Chinese citizens working on a hydro-power plant project site in northern Pakistan were killed in an explosion.
Earlier that year, a luxury hotel in Balochistan’s Quetta, where the Chinese ambassador was reportedly staying, was attacked in which four were killed and dozens injured, however, the ambassador was unhurt in the attack.
In 2018, the BLA attacked a bus ferrying 18 Chinese mining workers and even tried to expand their operations by attacking the Chinese consulate in Karachi, however, the militants failed to enter the compound.
In its statement, the BLA has said that it targeted the Confucius Institute because it is a “symbol of Chinese economic, cultural and political expansionism.”
China’s Foreign Ministry condemned the bombing and demanded that Islamabad punish the elements behind the suicide bombing and protect Chinese citizens by preventing such attacks from repeating.
“The blood of the Chinese people should not be shed in vain, and those behind this incident will surely pay the price,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Call For Chinese Airstrikes in Pakistan
Meanwhile, Hu Xijin former editor-in-chief of Global Times suggested, China must take more resolute actions to punish the terrorist forces whose hands are constantly stained with Chinese blood.
The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack. The BLA will definitely be more resolutely annihilated. I support Chinese military to launch direct air strikes against this terrorist organization's camp after getting approval of the Pakistani government. https://t.co/oEutEmgztN
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) April 26, 2022
Xijin said that China should increase support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts and that once the terrorists are identified, China could even conduct airstrikes or missile strikes on terrorist camps with the consent of the Pakistani government making it clear to the terrorists that attacks on Chinese targets will be met with a strong response.
According to Xijin, terrorists need to understand that China has had a belief since ancient times that “those who violate the Chinese will be punished even if they are far away.”
Xijin emphasized that the Chinese cannot be allowed to bleed in vain in Pakistan and that China’s great power prestige will be seriously damaged if it cannot even pursue the terrorists in Pakistan.
Beijing’s Growing Frustration With Pakistan
Xijin’s comments may be an indication of Beijing’s growing frustration with Pakistan’s incapacity to curb terrorism in the country which stands to jeopardize the CPEC corridor, which is the flagship program of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Experts suggest that Chinese authorities have been pressuring Islamabad to enhance the protection of Chinese nationals involved in infrastructure projects in Pakistan.
“What should be concerning for Beijing is that these deadly attacks of terror continue to play out, even after the Chinese authorities have pressured Islamabad to provide more security,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars told DW.
“It’s an indication of the limits of Pakistan’s capacity to keep Chinese nationals safe, and this is certainly unsettling for Beijing,” Kugelman added.
Qamar Cheema, an Islamabad-based security analyst, thinks that the change of government in Islamabad may lead to increased efforts against Baloch militants.
“Beijing was uncomfortable with the previous government of Imran Khan for slowing down CPEC and exposing Chinese to militants, but the new government of Shehbaz Sharif may push security agencies to expedite efforts for specific military operations against militant Baloch factions,” Cheema told DW.
“China may slow down their operations, as the BLA is directly targeting Chinese installations and people. China may enhance pressure on Islamabad, primarily Shehbaz, who will likely travel to China soon to discuss Chinese loans,” Cheema added.
BLA has a special unit called the ‘Majeed Brigade’ dedicated to targeted attacks at Chinese nationals and installations in Pakistan. The female suicide bomber who targeted the vehicle carrying Confucius Institute staff members on April 26 was a member of this Majeed Brigade.