Reports of Baloch separatist leaders meeting Chinese officials “silently” to hold talks on security issues surfaced earlier this week. While both Baloch separatist groups and China’s foreign ministry have denied the reports of them having secret deals and security discussions, speculation was high given the recent events that hinted at the reasons why China and Baloch separatists could have a good reason to engage with each other.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Nabi Bakhsh Baloch, general secretary, Baloch National Movement (BNM)-North America, said, “BNM has already clarified that none of our people has had any interaction with the Chinese. We do not even need to do anything like this. Such reports doing rounds in the media is a clear propaganda against us and our freedom struggle.”
Khalil Baloch, chairman, BNM, said in a tweet, “China should not be content with its purported talks with certain ‘tribal separatists’. The Baloch resistance against Chinese exploitation enjoys the support of the entire Baloch nation. The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is not going to materialise in Balochistan.”
Earlier this week, a report in Financial Times newspaper had said that the Chinese officials had been holding talks with Baloch militants for over five years to secure $60 billion investments in energy and infrastructure, collectively called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Since then, the Chinese and the Baloch separatists have denied the claims in the report.
About the report, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Thursday, “I have never heard of such things as you mentioned. The Chinese and Pakistani governments have been working in coordination on security matters regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.”
Expressing satisfaction over security measures taken by Pakistan to protect CPEC-related projects and Chinese citizens, Shuang said: “We appreciate that Pakistan has already taken a series of important measures for effective protection of CPEC projects and Chinese citizens. We hope and believe that the Pakistani side will continue with these efforts to ensure the safety of the CPEC.”
However, in the first week of February, a Chinese national, a general manager of the Chinese shipping major Cosco Shipping Lines Company, was shot dead in Karachi, the financial hub of the country. Chen Zhu, 45, was in his car in an upscale area in Karachi, when the car was shot at and Zhu died from a bullet wound to the head. The incident was looked at as a targeted killing. Last June, the Islamic State (IS) had kidnapped and killed two Chinese nationals in Balochistan and that had prompted the consulate to issue warnings to nationals of staying alert and minding their safety in the region.
Regional observers have speculated that Chinese nationals in Balochistan are highly vulnerable because of the threat they face from IS as well as Baloch insurgent groups for whom the CPEC is a sign of oppression and not development. According to sources, cases of Chinese nationals being abducted by local fringe elements for ransom are gradually becoming a headache for the local army. Though China is said to have sent close to 10,000 boots-on-the-ground in Balochistan, the threat from various armed groups continues to be a serious roadblock for the CPEC.
Given the threat Chinese nationals in Balochistan face, it would be in China’s interest to keep the insurgent groups at bay by holding talks with them or through money. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign office assured that China had no need to bypass the Pakistan government if it wanted to talk to the Baloch leaders.
Speaking to the local media, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said China was in “direct” contact with Pakistan and “did not need to discuss security with Baloch leaders”. Faisal said that the CPEC was being implemented by China to improve Pakistan’s economy. “It is our responsibility to ensure security for the Chinese people and the infrastructure,” he added. Officials in the foreign ministry have been quoted anonymously explaining that “since there are lot of Chinese working in Balochistan, they are bound to interact with the locals at some point in time”. Sources said that the Chinese people who were in contact with the Baloch leaders were normally accompanied by Pakistani government representatives.