Chinese couple’s murder and new challenges for CPEC – Imtiaz Gul

Three recent events underscore the geopolitical as well as socioeconomic roadblocks to the success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); one involved two Chinese abducted from Quetta and eventually murdered purportedly by the IS/Daesh, the second was about a dozen Chinese detected in Quetta immediately after the kidnapping of the two.

There were quietly handed over to Chinese officials for an apparent deportation to China. The other related to a financial dispute between Pakistani and Chinese business partners, resulting in physical thrashing of a Chinese national in Islamabad.

Beside the geopolitical roadblocks, they face continuing social challenges too; the human propensity to swindle and dodge others for financial gains. Grand undertakings such as those under-construction CPEC projects only amplify such propensity, even in the face of fear of getting caught and punished.

The couple, executed by the IS, ostensibly ran a language centre, where they themselves were also learning. Officials in Beijing claimed they were working for a South Korean Missionary Organisation, essentially proselytising without being known to the security apparatus, it seems.

Neither they nor the deported group were linked to any CPEC project and thus their presence in Quetta raised a critical question as to whether they had at all travelled to Balochistan with the knowledge of the security officials.

How could they evade the intelligence cobweb in the already embattled province? CPEC or anything, Chinese must not be an automatic carte blanche for joint ventures. So does the volatility of the situation demands.

This also applies to the third factor; socio-economic dimension of the CPEC which a number of Pakistanis and Chinese firms/individuals are using as a cover for their crooked ways to make quick bucks.

This scenario kicks up some basic questions; does it mean everything associated with CPEC is kosher and above accountability? Does the entire security apparatus lower its guards altogether when it comes to “Chinese or China?”

What were the Chinese Christian couple and the other 11 (eight women and three men) doing in Quetta and since when? Why were the 11 turned over to Chinese diplomats based in Karachi? It remains unexplained. How did they slip the security scrutiny, which basically requires every foreigner to obtain official permission for visiting Quetta, let alone other parts of Balochistan?

The Chinese Communist Party, according to the Newsweek, punished nearly 300,000 officials for corruption in 2015 alone. Some 200,000 people received what the watchdog Central Committee for Discipline Inspection termed “light punishments”, while 82,000 were handed severe ones, including demotion down the party hierarchy.

Chinese police have arrested several high-profile figures, among them the former head of the security services, Zhou Yongkang, and the well-known TV host Rui Chenggang, CBS News reports. Zhou was sentenced to life in prison.

This reflects China’s President Xi Jinping’s continued resolve against the corrupt and carries a lesson for all those Chinese and Pakistanis who are overseeing the CPEC projects or are involved in them directly or otherwise.

In fact, anti-graft campaign constitutes one of the cardinal components of his current five-year plan, which recognises rampant corruption that had been so pervasive in various tiers of governance. China’s private sector too has not been any exception either. And it is therefore imperative for both Pakistani and Chinese top officials to exercise caution and create monitoring mechanisms to minimise chances of fraud and misappropriation in the name of CPEC. The same will be true for the security collaboration; both security establishments need to agree to a minimum standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure no miscreants slip through. Only such an SOP can pre-empt and prevent disruption of CPEC. For both countries’ stakes are too high to lower guards and allow spoilers a free run.

Chinese officials and academia visiting Pakistan fear that in view of the “Trumpian policies” a new US-China rivalry may unfold. “India will be the main instrument to obstruct or slow China’s projects in the region” is the common view coming through the Chinese security community. They also don’t rule out use of Balochistan and disgruntled or militant mercenaries for causing this disruption. For them, Gwadar represents an economic opportunity but think the Americans and Indians view it as a strategic base. And these conflicting perceptions can potentially undermine the China-Pakistan cooperation.

None of them can afford to allow individual private groups – unscrupulous businessmen, hired militant non-state actors (proxies) – to vitiate relations between the two countries. Bilateral due diligence, continued vigilance and oversight mechanisms could perhaps guarantee successful implementation of the projects as well as save lives. Nothing should be taken for granted, nor should anything be self-understood in an environment loaded with geopolitical motives.

Originally Published in Daily Times

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