CHINA WATCH [JUNE 6 – JUNE 12] – The Question of Chinese Nationals’ Security

Summary

The Islamic States (IS) claimed to have killed the two Chinese nationals kidnapped in Quetta on May 24. Pentagon, in its annual report, has reckoned that Beijing was set to expand its military footprint across the globe including Pakistan. Pakistan (as well as India) has become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). A Chinese naval fleet of three warships arrived at Pakistan port city of Karachi for a four-day goodwill and training visit. Chief Minister (CM) of Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah has complained that the centre has not taken his provincial government into confidence over Sukkur-Multan highway and other projects being executed under the CPEC.

The Question of Chinese Nationals’ Security:

In a serious blow to the efforts of Pakistan to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals working on the CPEC projects, the so-called IS claimed to have killed the two Chinese nationals kidnapped in Quetta on May 24.[i] The news outlet of IS, Amaq, said “Islamic State fighters have killed two Chinese people they had been holding in Baluchistan province, southwest Pakistan.” In response to the news, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told media that Pakistani authorities told Beijing the abducted Chinese national were ‘probably dead’.[ii] She added “[W]e have taken note of relevant reports and we express our grave concern.” On the other hand, Pakistan Foreign Office stated the government was working to confirm the authenticity of the reports of the killings. The statement added “[W]e are in constant contact with the Chinese Government.” It is noteworthy that the IS claim came hours after the Pakistan’s military media wing Inter-Services Public Relations released the details of a three-day operation conducted against IS in Mastung area of Balochistan. The operation that was conducted from June 1 to 3 killed 12 ‘hardcore terrorists, including two suicide bombers’ but could not recover the abducted Chinese nationals.[iii]

The incident is clearly a major setback for both the civilian government and security institutions of Pakistan. It will certainly not go down well with Beijing who has long raised concerns over security threats faced by its nationals in Pakistan. Though it is not the first time the Chinese nationals have become victims of the violence, the current circumstances can make this event far more consequential. The relative normalcy that Pakistan had restored after the launching of military Operation Zarb-e-Azb and comprehensive anti-terror National Action Plan has been exposed to doubts and questioning. It also casts doubts on Islamabad’s assertions that IS has no presence in the country. Above all, the Chinese nationals have been targeted at a time when the work on multi-billion dollars project of the CPEC is in progress and thousands of Chinese nationals are present in the country. It will increase pressure on Pakistan to take measures to ensure no such incidents happen in the future. Pakistan has already established Special Security Division for the purpose of providing protection to Chinese nationals and workers involved in the CPEC. Notwithstanding this mishap, the stakes of the two countries in continued and increasing cooperation – for now – are higher than ever. As a matter of fact, China and Pakistan might be impelled to plan and work more closely on the issue of security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan. In other words, China might be pushed to think seriously and play some role about a subject which otherwise should have been Pakistan’s domestic institutional undertaking.

China’s Military Base in Pakistan: Pentagon Report

Pentagon, in its annual report on military and security developments involving China,[iv] has reckoned that Beijing was set to expand its military footprint across the globe including Pakistan.[v] The report predicts “China most likely will see to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan.” The report also highlighted that China spent around $180 billion on military, an estimate higher than official defence budget of $140bn shown by Beijing. It noted that Pakistan was already the primary market for Chinese arms exports in the Asia Pacific region.[vi] A recent study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that more than 60 percent of China’s arms exports went to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.[vii] However, China categorically dismissed the Pentagon report as ‘irresponsible remarks’.[viii] Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment on “speculation” and added that “friendly cooperation (between China and Pakistan) does not target any third party.” She went on to say “[W]e hope the U.S. side can rationally and objectively view China’s national defence and military building.”

For decades, China has strictly adhered to the foreign policy of non-intervention which precludes any direct engagement by Beijing in the domestic affairs and conflicts of other countries. This principle of no-intervention however has not stopped China from establishing a naval base in the East African nation Djibouti in 2015. Beijing refrained from calling it a military base and instead said it would be used to resupply Chinese Navy ships participating in United Nations anti piracy missions.[ix] China has also invested millions of dollars in developing Pakistan’s Gwadar port that sits close to strategic Strait of Hormuz. Under the CPEC, China’s role in Gwadar port has increased further. It has got to operate the port for 40 years under the deal with Pakistan. The port is primarily envisaged to play the role of a hub for energy and trade supplies to China through Pakistan. Due to close strategic and military relationship between the two countries, the possibility of Gwadar being used as military outpost by China can not be overruled. However, Pakistan’s thriving democratic institutions, such as Parliament and media, might play decisive role should the two countries look for any such possibility.

Pakistan Becomes Full Member of SCO:

Pakistan (as well as India) has become a full member of the SCO. The announcement was made by the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his inaugural speech during the 17th SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.[x] SCO is Eurasian military and security organisation established in 2001. Among other goals, countering the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism merits important part of the agenda of SCO. The other members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Pakistani Prime Minister while addressing the Astana summit said “[T]he SCO goals resonate with Pakistan’s national ethos, and so do the core values of Shanghai spirit and SCO charter with our own quest for peaceful neighbourhood.”

Inclusion of Pakistan (and India) in SCO can have some major outcomes. First, it can be helpful for Pakistan to stave-off the isolation at a time when relations with neighbouring India, Afghanistan and Iran have touched the lowest ebb. Second, membership of an organisation run by regional powers i.e. China and Russia, might prove effective in managing the regional tensions between India and Pakistan on one hand and Afghanistan and Pakistan on other. Despite all such optimistic prospects, some ground realities can not be ignored. These regional tensions are historic and deep-running and will require more of bilateral willingness and efforts than any multilateral platform can afford. Moreover, China and Russia seem to have little appetite for involving in intricate regional disputes between the newly-accepted members of Pakistan and India.

Miscellaneous:

A Chinese naval fleet of three warships arrived at Pakistani port city of Karachi for a four-day goodwill and training visit.[xi] CM of Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah has complained that the federal government has not taken his provincial government into confidence over Sukkur-Multan highway and other projects being executed under the CPEC.[xii]

This report is compiled and written by Abdur Rehman Shah, Research Associate at the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. He tweets @abdur_shah

[i] Reuters. (2017, June 8). Islamic State says it killed two Chinese teachers kidnapped in Pakistan. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-china-islamic-state-idUSKBN18Z20O?il=0

[ii] Dawn. (2017, June 10). Abducted Chinese nationals killed, claims IS. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1338454/abducted-chinese-nationals-killed-claims-is

[iii] Dawn. (2017, June 8). Army release details of 3-day Mastung operation that targeted ‘IS facilitators’. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1338242/army-releases-details-of-3-day-mastung-operation-that-targeted-is-facilitators

[iv] https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2017_China_Military_Power_Report.PDF?ver=2017-06-06-141328-770

[v] Haas, Benjamin. (2017, June 7). China to set up military bases in Pakistan – Pentagon report. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/07/china-to-set-up-military-bases-in-pakistan-pentagon-report

[vi] Stewart, Phil. (2017, June 7). U.S. says China likely to build more overseas bases, maybe in Pakistan. Retrieved on June 11, 2017, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-military-idUSKBN18X2W8

[vii] Jiangtao, Shi. (2017, February 20). China boosts arms exports by 74pc, while cutting reliance on outsider providers, report finds. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/20/china-boosts-arms-exports-by-74pc-while-cutting-reliance-on-outside-providers-report-finds.html

[viii] AFP. (2017, June 7). China slams Pentagon report on building military base in Pakistan. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/209169-China-slams-Pentagon-report-on-building-military-base-in-Pakistan

[ix] Parlez, Jane. (2015, November 26). China retools its military with a first overseas outpost in Djibouti. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/world/asia/china-military-presence-djibouti-africa.html?_r=0

[x] APP. (2017, June 10). ‘It is a historic day’: Pakistan becomes full member of SCO at Astana summit. Retrieved on June 10, 2017, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1338471/it-is-a-historic-day-pakistan-becomes-full-member-of-sco-at-astana-summit

[xi] Xinhua. (2017, June 11). Chinese naval fleet visits Pakistan. Retrieved on June 11, 2017, from http://www.china.org.cn/world/2017-06/11/content_41005515.htm

[xii] Dawn. (2017, June 9). Centre has not taken Sindh into confidence on CPEC projects, says Murad. Retrieved on June 10,2017, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1338295

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