Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan has urged Pakistan to bolster security for Beijing’s major development drive in the country, following the deadly terror attacks two weeks ago which appeared to target Chinese projects, including the strategic deep-sea port at Gwadar.
Wang met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan during a three-day state visit to Islamabad, which concluded on Tuesday, and raised concerns for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), including the need for “effective measures to provide security guarantees” for the US$62 billion network of roads, railways, and pipelines in Pakistan.
Khan said during the meetings that Pakistan had established a special committee dedicated to ensuring the safety of Chinese personnel in the country, according to a report from China’s Xinhua state news agency.
Officials and businesspeople in Pakistan – which touts its “all-weather” strategic partnership with China – have stressed the need to address security concerns over projects under CPEC, which is regarded as a key pillar for Beijing’s broader Belt and Road Initiative across Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Security concerns were heightened after insurgent gunmen stormed a five-star hotel in Gwadar in early May, not long after an April attack on a bus travelling from Gwadar that killed 14, including Pakistani military personnel. The Baloch Liberation Army, which has threatened further violence against Chinese interests, has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
While in Islamabad, Wang said the two countries would work towards the next phase of high-quality development of the corridor and discuss issues including third-party cooperation, according to Xinhua.
Both sides signed various deals on agriculture and economic cooperation, and inaugurated a number of projects such as a transmission line and a special economic zone, Pakistan media reported.
Addressing a meeting of the Pakistan-China Institute, Wang was reported to say: “No matter how the international landscape changes, China will always stand by Pakistan’s core interests … CPEC will produce new outcomes and lend new impetus to the economic and social development of Pakistan and economic integration of the region.”
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In addition to security risks within Pakistan, CPEC has also faced a backlash from neighbouring India for running through the disputed Kashmir region – which is claimed by both Islamabad and New Delhi – as well as its perceived lack of transparency, disproportionate benefits for Chinese firms and wealthier areas in Pakistan, and for furthering Beijing’s geopolitical intentions.
But given its importance, Pakistani military spokesperson Asif Ghafoor told Chinese media in Islamabad after the Gwadar hotel attack that the military was planning to deploy another division-sized force to ensure the security of the corridor. Pakistan launched a 15,000-strong special security force in 2016 to protect projects and workers in the area.
Sheharyar Khan, assistant professor of international relations at Iqra University in Islamabad, suggested Wang wanted to use his visit to address key security concerns for the economic corridor, including security risks and the problems of project suspension because of government’s reviews, as well as the impact from Pakistan’s economic woes.
The International Monetary Fund granted Pakistan a US$6 billion bailout in mid-May to help the country avert an economic crisis.
“This high-powered visit was meant to share Chinese concerns and reassure [Pakistan about] China’s commitment to the CPEC,” he said.
“Pakistan is under pressure [because] Baloch insurgents can mount attacks on Chinese interests, even in secure zones. The visit would reassure [China of] Pakistan’s commitment to ensure security and not harm CPEC, while making other deals with IMF or any other country.”
After leaving Pakistan on Tuesday, Wang will head to the Netherlands and Germany.