SINGAPORE: China's multi-billion dollar investments in Pakistan face serious security threats even though the Pakistani government has assured special military unit protection to Chinese experts, according to a new book released here.
"Although both Chinese and Pakistani leaders like to refer to their two countries' close relationship as 'higher than the Karakorams, deeper than the oceans and sweeter than honey,' our collected data shows that Pakistan has been the most dangerous country for travelling Chinese nationals, with at least 12 Chinese killed in 11 separate attacks," said Jonas Parello-Plesner and Mathieu Duchatel in their book 'China's Strong Arm – Protecting Citizens and Assets Abroad.'
"Separatists in Pakistan's Baluchistan province have targeted two important Chinese projects in the region, the Gwadar Port and the Saindak mine, for overtly political reasons," wrote the authors.
The book, released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, recalled the murder of three Chinese nationals in May 2004 while they were working on the port project.
Contractor China Harbour Engineering completed the first phase of the project but left during the second stage for security reasons. China's Kingho Group was also forced to cancel an ambitious coal mining project in Pakistan for the same reason.
Chinese oil-tanker drivers delivering fuel to the Saindak mine in the Chaghai hills were being attacked and kidnapped as early as this year, they said. "Such insecurity – and such risks for Chinese engineers and workers – has kept other projects in Pakistan on the drawing board," wrote Washington-based Parello-Plesner and Beijing-based Duchatel in the 160-page book.
Citing security concerns, "very little has happened to advance the corridor project" of linking Gwadar to Kashgar, the capital of Xinjiang region, which was to create a new strategic axis in west Asia, the book said on the strategic USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Much more re-affirmation of the projects between the two countries have taken place, but the links between southwestern Pakistan to Xinjiang are still on the drawing board; although China has been funding for improvements of roads along the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar to almost Islamabad.
China may be more willing today than it was before to support economic cooperation with Pakistan, especially given the enormous political support in Beijing for a 'New Silk Road' through the region and the follow on USD40 billion pledged in April.
"That does not mean, however, that security concerns have evaporated," said the authors. Pakistan in February announced that a special military unit was being trained to protect Chinese experts working on the China-Pakistan economic corridor.
"In addition to government contacts, our earlier research has shown that China has had close exchanges with opposition parties, some of them Islamist, believing this could have a positive impact on the security of its nationals in Pakistan," they wrote.
"In the long-term, the aim is to sustain a united, pro-Chinese front among the Pakistani elite through the Chinese embassy in Islamabad and the International Liaison Department of the ruling Communist Party.
"In 2009 and 2010, for instances, Beijing hosted representatives of Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), two political parties with known links to fighters in Afghanistan, and in the case of JUI, with the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban," the authors wrote.