On October 9 two Chinese engineers were kidnapped in South Waziristan, a region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. During a rescue attempt by the Pakistani government one hostage was rescued but the other was killed. During this year, several attacks targeting Chinese workers have taken place in Pakistan. The Pakistan correspondent of the People's Daily compiled an investigative report on their safety.
On May 3 a group of Pakistanis used a remote-controlled car bomb to attack Chinese engineers at Gwadar Seaport in southwestern Pakistan, killing three and injuring nine. At the end of July, a Chinese run club in Islamabad was bombed, causing many to be injured. The reason for the bombing has still not been established.
After the two engineers were kidnapped, China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Group Corp (Sinohydro), whom the hostages worked for, suspended its dam project and withdrew all of its Chinese staff to a site outside the tribal area. Sinohydro has since arranged for their return to China. Pakistani security forces and police have strengthened 24-hour protection for other Chinese contractors.
Overseas Chinese in South Asia comprise five major groups: embassy and consulate staff, resident correspondents and representatives of large enterprises; engineers, technicians and workers for Chinese aided or contracted construction projects; local overseas Chinese; businesspeople from privately or individually owned firms; and volunteers working for international agencies. Generally, the latter two groups are in a minority and difficult to count.
There are about 500 Chinese in Afghanistan. Chinese aided and contracted projects include a dam repair in northern Kabul, construction of a hospital and two schools in central Kabul and a road building project in the northern province of Kunduz, where eleven Chinese workers were killed on June 10.
More than 5,000 Chinese work and study in Pakistan. Besides diplomatic staff, most of them work for construction projects like Gwadar Seaport and the dam in Waziristan. Taking local overseas Chinese into account (including those with Pakistani nationality) there are about 10,000-15,000 Chinese in the country.
One threat to Chinese workers is from conflicts within Pakistan. The Gwadar Seaport attack and the hostage incident are typical examples. They were not aimed at China directly, but used Sino-Pak relations to try to force the Pakistani government to accept their conditions.
The other threat is from East Turkistan forces. Around China's National Day Holiday (October 1-7), AFP reported that East Turkistan forces had established a military base in Pakistan and intended to attack Chinese diplomatic institutions in South Asia. A major figurehead of East Turkistan forces was shot dead in Pakistan last year, whilst a Sino-Pak joint anti-terror military exercise held this August showed that they are still active there.
Many construction projects with Chinese aid or contracted by Chinese companies are in remote areas and are easily targeted by terrorists. However, security can be increased with centralized and blocked working and living sites as well as the protection of local police and military forces. Attacks have usually happened when Chinese workers are in transit, so how to protect them then has become the most important challenge.
Greater security urged
With the boom of Chinese invested and aided projects, conflicts between Chinese enterprises and local economic interests may increasingly result in violence.
China has been a target of terrorism for a long time. On one hand, China needs to cooperate with the international community to fight terrorism by sticking to its "walk out" strategy. On the other hand, practical and effective measures are needed to reduce the threat to overseas Chinese:
First, Chinese aid construction companies should raise awareness of safety issues by allocating more money for security budgets when bidding for overseas projects and working out emergency response strategies.
Second, Chinese companies should work with local governments and police forces to step up protection, such as asking for patrols and strengthening communications with local forces and authorities.
Third, Chinese companies should promote the wealth-bringing aspects of projects to local populations.
Fourth, when attacks take place, local forces should be urged to make all-round investigations, with help of Chinese forces if needed, and to punish the criminals without mercy as a warning to others. Both sides should negotiate for compensation according to international conventions and Chinese actual loss.
Chinese in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore have drawn lessons from recent incidents. They have employed 24-hour security, strengthened walls and gates, set up electronic monitoring systems and have started to avoid going outside at night. Some even lowered flags, took down ornaments that could identify them and changed their license plate to a local number.
The Chinese Embassy to Pakistan reminds those in Pakistan to contact them and ask for help if they face any difficulties.
(China.org.cn by Li Shen, November 8, 2004)