By Northlines -
June 25, 2017
LtGen Prakash Katoch
The killing of Chinese nationals Lee Zingyang (24) and Meng Lisi (26) in Pakistan post abduction from Quetta, capital of Balochistan, on May 24 was hardly a stray incident. Had the killings not been announced by the Islamic State, Beijing and Islamabad would have suppressed the news. The disappearance would have been depicted to Chinese public as another case of youngsters lost in the wild; drifters, drugs, or hit-and-run-and-dumped.
The rate at which Pakistan has radicalized in the intervening period perhaps has been phenomenal.
With China’s communist philosophy of everything including your body being property of the State; millions of Chinese killed during the so called ‘peaceful rise’ of China didn’t matter anyway. Not many would know that a Chinese cemetery exists at Danyor (10 kms from Gilgit); established during 1970s to bury Chinese labourers who died in construction of the KKH. But those deaths due natural or accidental causes are different from the reasons why Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi were butchered.
The rate at which Pakistan has radicalized in the intervening period perhaps has been phenomenal. Earlier in Pakistan, three Chinese workers were assassinated in Peshawar in 2007, while Al Qaeda’s regional franchise, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, killed a Chinese engineer in a 2009 ambush. Four Chinese engineers were killed during 2016; two in a roadside blast in September and another two Chinese engineers were killed by unidentified assailants in November in Pasni and Hub districts of Balochistan respectively.
These killings were pushed under the table with suspicion deflected to Baloch insurgents. However, this was not possible in case of Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi because of the ISIS announcement on June 8. Yet, China’s official media downplayed these killings but discussion on Weibo (China’s Twitter equivalent) continued at considerable length.
Naturally there was Chinese pressure on Pakistan to trace Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi. Consequently, when the ISIS announcement of the brutal killings came on June 8, it was widely reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped a customary meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the SCO summit in Astana; indicating how worked up Xi was with news.
Despite ISIS claiming the abduction and killing, China blamed South Korean missionaries (on behest Pakistan) for the abduction and murder of these Chinese nationals.
In fact China’s state-run media highlighted Xi’s meetings with Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan and India and with the Russian President. Later the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) swung into damage control over relations with Pakistan by lying that Xi met Nawaz “frequently” at Astana; causing humour on social media whether the ‘frequent’ meetings were during visits to the rest room. China’s Foreign Ministry was quick to state the “incident will not have any necessary connection with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), nor with summit of the SCO”; guilt in the statement was obvious, with SCO added as subterfuge.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not just a line joining Kashgar to Gwadar. In fact, all Chinese activities, past and present, including development of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), were and continue to be centred around the CPEC; China’s strategic highway to the Indian Ocean.
Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi entered Pakistan on ‘business visa’ and China would not grant such visa without knowing what exactly the ‘business’ was. It is amusing to note pains taken by China-Pakistan to distort facts. Despite ISIS claiming the abduction and killing, China blamed South Korean missionaries (on behest Pakistan) for the abduction and murder of these Chinese nationals, accusing them of misguiding the duo into preaching Christianity.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying, “Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning Urdu language from a Korean national, and were actually engaged in preaching”. It is difficult to believe that two nationals of Communist China, who may have been atheists, were “preachers” “engaged in evangelical activities” despite being on business visas – surely their business visas were not sponsored by the Vatican and they couldn’t be unaware of the fate of Christians in Pakistan. The joke continues with Pakistan reportedly cancelling the visa of the South Korean national (no name given) running an Urdu academy relating him to abduction of the Chinese couple. Appears imagination of the ISI has run out – South Korean running an Urdu academy in South Korea could be digested but certainly not in Pakistan.
According to one estimate, presently there are some 4,00,000 Chinese nationals pan-Pakistan, including 25,000 in Islamabad alone.
In March 2012, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for killing of a Chinese woman, saying it was in revenge for China’s killing of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The Chinese woman was shot in a market in Peshawar, along with a Pakistani national. In June 2013, Pakistani militants dressed in Gilgit Scouts uniforms killed 10 climbers (including two Chinese nationals – Chunfeng Yang and Jianfeng Rao) and a local guide in area of Nanga Parbat. The killings were claimed by the TTP.
In November 2015, post the execution of Chinese national Fan Jinghui by the ISIS, reported by ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq, President Xi Jinping strongly condemned the incident and China’s foreign ministry stated the Chinese government would “definitely hold the perpetrators accountable.” But how and where to respond remains China’s dilemma given its own links with terrorist organizations and the genocide in Xinjiang against the Uighurs. China may whitewash the recent bomb blast at Jiangsu Kindergarten as act of some ‘disgruntled’ element but can’t hide it was a terrorist attack.
China has mounted massive cultural invasion of Pakistan to facilitate the CPEC. With respect to the CPEC, S Akbar Zaidi, Pakistani economist at Karachi University says, “It is indeed a game changer, but not in the way our ruling classes have projected it to be. It will enslave Pakistan and undermine its sovereignty”. According to Zaidi, Senator Tahir Mashhadi (former Lt Col of Pakistan army) and presently Chairman of the Standing Committee on Planning and Development, Pakistan, describes the CPEC corridor as the advent of “another East India Company in the offing.”
According to one estimate, presently there are some 4,00,000 Chinese nationals pan-Pakistan, including 25,000 in Islamabad alone. This doesn’t include thousands who migrated to Gilgit-Baltistan decades ago – unknown to Indian intelligence. In Pakistan, some 8000 children are learning Mandarin from age eight to middle school with 20,000 Chinese expats expected in Pakistan over the next five years.
Providing security to Chinese nationals in such large numbers is not going to be easy, even as China may encourage more and more Chinese girls to marry Pakistanis.
Chinese language centres are multiplying, with Confucius Centres in major universities. Punjab Chief Minister (Nawaz Sharif’s brother) is giving scholarships for Pakistanis to study Chinese. The Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) plans to send 15,000 students to China. It is also offering short courses locally for Pakistanis desirous of “doing business” related to CPEC.
Providing security to Chinese nationals in such large numbers is not going to be easy, even as China may encourage more and more Chinese girls to marry Pakistanis. Significantly, Chinese nationals have also been arrested for cyber crimes among others, though these reports are suppressed. So, the killings of Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi while being interrogated by Pakistani police / ISI can hardly be ruled out – later claimed by ISIS?
Unfortunately for Beijing, the Chinese public can’t be fooled as in yesteryears despite the media control and propaganda. And, this will become more and more difficult with more Chinese targeted in future – which appears inevitable. Given the ethno-religious rivalries in Xinjiang and Pakistan, coupled with booming Wahabism in the Pakistan, how radicalized Pakistan will respond to this cultural invasion may hold surprises for China.
Other significant factors are economy, employment and finances. China’s BRI, and its flagship CPEC is nothing but debt instrument that can and will drive Pakistan towards bankruptcy. Publication of China’s CPEC Master Plan in the ‘Dawn’ should have rung alarm bells in not only in Pakistan but also Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Pakistan’s trade deficit has reportedly crossed $30 billion albeit the government is in denial mode.
Apparently, money borrowed from Chinese banks to pay for machinery imports was not coming to Pakistan; it was being used directly in China to make payments, so when the machinery landed at the port and went through customs valuation, it showed up in Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) data but the State Bank could not see any outgoing payment for it.
How Pakistan resolves the compensation is separate issue but it does add to local angst against China.
In the latest data series, the discrepancy has climbed to almost $6bn in the July-April 2017 figures. According to a recent UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Study (UNESCAP) report, the $46 billion dollar CPEC represents a fifth of Pakistan’s GDP if not more. The report warns countries in South and Central Asia of the financial risks they could face through China’s OBOR. This includes financial transactions linked to the CPEC lacking transparency that will not provide the promised job opportunities to the youth, as things produced in industries set up by China would be exported to Pakistan, generating profit for Beijing, not Islamabad.
Moreover, when Nawaz Sharif boasted of CPEC creating 700,000 jobs, he didn’t qualify these will be low grade and special economic zones will only permit Chinese to buy land and establish businesses. Neither were Pakistanis privy they will be treated more or less as ‘slaves’ by the Chinese masters – so far accustomed to be so addressed only by Saudi Arabia.
On 13 June 2017, some 100 Pakistanis led by leaders of the 35-member CPEC Affectees Action Committee stormed the site of a CPEC project in Battagram’s Gajborai area (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province) in protest over non-payment of compensation for their land, forcing the Chinese to halt construction. Nearly 1,000 locals have been affected by the construction of a tunnel falling under the CPEC scheme that runs for 60 kms from Kas Bridge to Thakoot Bridge. District administration had earlier asked locals to vacate their lands and houses without consultation. Locals also claim the government did not notify them before work started on the project.
Pakistan is riding a tiger it cannot handle. China will learn that lesson soon…
How Pakistan resolves the compensation is separate issue but it does add to local angst against China.
Beijing knows there is a serious ethno-religious-radical Islam problem in the region. The ISIS is consolidating in Af-Pak and the Al Qaeda-ETIM have their designs for Xinjiang. Besides, thousands of Uighurs fighting in Syria-Iraq yearn for Han blood when they revert home.
China, in conjunction Pakistan, hopes to divert this collusive radicalized mass to Afghanistan and India, which is serious miscalculation. But the gravest error of Xi Jinping is in hoping that China’s BRI-OBOR-CPEC will replace the dollar with the Yuan without any retaliation. Pakistan is riding a tiger it cannot handle. China will learn that lesson soon, her links with Taliban notwithstanding