Pakistan Confirms Deaths of Abducted Chinese Nationals

Late last month, two Chinese nationals were reportedly kidnapped in Quetta, Bolochistan, Pakistan, highlighting ongoing concerns about security and economic imperialism in Beijing’s longtime diplomatic “all-weather friend.” Officials in Pakistan today confirmed that the couple has been killed, days after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing the two via IS mouthpiece Amaq News Agency. For the AP, Asif Shahzad reports:

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan confirmed the deaths Monday, without saying who was behind the killings or whether the bodies have been recovered.

Lee Zing Yang, 24, and Meng Li Si, 26, were taken by gunmen from the southwestern city of Quetta last month.

[…] The interior minister said the Chinese couple had entered on business visas but began “preaching” after they arrived in Quetta, without elaborating. He called for a review of his country’s visa policies with regard to Chinese nationals. [Source]

Originally described as language teachers, recent reports claim that the couple were actually in Pakistan conducting missionary activity. More on comments from Pakistan’s interior ministry regarding the couple’s alleged preaching, and Pakistan’s plans to increase oversight of Chinese nationals for security purposes, from Voice of America:

[An official statement from Pakistani interior minister Nisar Ali Khan] said a group of Chinese citizens, including the slain couple, had entered Pakistan on business visas, but “instead of engaging in any business activity they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning Urdu language … were actually engaged in preaching.”

The statement added that a Korean national, Juan Won Seo, who runs an information technology-related company in the provincial capital was hosting the Chinese group.

[…] Minister Khan “observed that it is highly unfortunate that a misuse of the terms of a business visa contributed to the unfortunate incident of abduction and subsequent murder of two innocent Chinese.”

He also directed authorities to gather information about Chinese nationals in Pakistan and establish a database to enable security institutions to ensure their protection, according to the statement. [Source]

This kidnapping in Balochistan highlighted lingering concerns about security in the troubled region, which have been resounding along with questions about local ethnic rights and Beijing’s expanding political influence in Pakistan. China has planned nearly $60 billion in infrastructural investment into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. The recent kidnapping and murder have reportedly irked Xi Jinping, who last week “snubbed” Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Kazakhstan. Reuters reports further on promises from Pakistan to reassure Chinese investors about the security of Chinese nationals living and contracting in the region, of which the above described database is a part:

Pakistani officials have outlined to Reuters extensive security plans that include thousands-strong police protection forces, tighter monitoring of Chinese nationals, and in the province of Baluchistan – where the two teachers were kidnapped on May 24 – a review of security arrangements.

[…] The protection forces will buttress a 15,000-strong army division set up specifically to safeguard projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which has been credited with rejuvenating Pakistan’s US$300 billion economy.

[…] Baluchistan would “review the whole security arrangement” and Chinese nationals who come in a private capacity should inform the authorities about their activities, said Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, spokesman for the provincial government.

The number of militant attacks in Pakistan has fallen sharply in recent years, but violent Islamist groups still pose a threat, and in Baluchistan separatists opposed to the CPEC also carry out attacks. […] [Source]

While the murders have inspired re-examination of the political and security implications of CPEC, Chinese state-affiliated media coverage has largely focused attention on the couple’s alleged Korean missionary connection. Quartz reports:

The day after the Islamic State claim, state-controlled tabloid Global Times published a report that suggested the attack could be related to the work of a Korean-led missionary group, using the sensationalist headline (link in Chinese) “Scoop! The truth behind the kidnapped Chinese people in Pakistan: Sure enough it’s Korean peoples’ fault again.” The article noted that Korea’s Christian aid workers have been kidnapped and killed overseas in the past.

[…] The Global Times and the Paper, a Shanghai-based digital publication, both reported (link in Chinese) that the two slain Chinese nationals, in their twenties, belonged to a Christian missionary group led by a South Korean citizen. The 13-member group was running a language school, the reports said, citing an unidentified hotel owner. According to the reports, members of the local Muslim community said that the group tried to spread Christian teachings to them. A Chinese journalist says the Chinese foreign ministry briefed several Chinese outlets at a closed-door meeting with the same details that were reported.

Over the weekend, in an online discussion of the Pakistan incident, the Communist Youth League, whose members have becoming increasing active in voicing nationalist views on social media, also weighed in. In a June 11 post, the group depicted Korean missionary workers as a strong force that has secret activities in China and warned Chinese people to be on guard against them (link in Chinese). For months China and Korea have been experiencing tension over the deployment of a US anti-missile system in South Korea, though there had been signs of a thaw in recent days.

In China, the Global Times report drew widespread attention, with many people saying it was not wise to engage in missionary activities in Pakistan, while others criticized the reports themselves. [Source]

Meanwhile, supporters of CPEC continue to highlight the benefits that the project offers to both sides. Pakistan Today reports on a new skill-building initiative that would strengthen cooperation between Pakistani and Chinese think tanks, and the Pakistan Observer reports on a planned month-long “Cultural Caravan,” which will be touring the CPEC route “with an objective to showcase soft image, rich culture and trade potential of the region.”