Failed suicide bombing in Pakistan sends more chills down Beijing’s spine

Foreign Affairs

A foiled suicide bombing against Chinese nationals in Pakistan is yet another attack that rattled Beijing, but will probably also strengthen its resolve.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Pakistani police arrested a woman working for the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) who planned to blow herself up near a convoy of Chinese nationals along the China Pakistan Economic-Corridor (CPEC) on May 16.

The BLA is a separatist group labeled as a terrorist organization by the Pakistani government and often attacks gas projects, security forces, infrastructure — and in recent years — a growing number of Chinese projects.

  • CPEC, a $65 billion-plus investment in infrastructure in Pakistan and part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, operates a few big projects in Balochistan, the largest province by area but also the least populated and least developed despite its massive mineral and energy resources.
  • The BLA warned of “even harsher” attacks after claiming responsibility for the most recent bombing that killed three Chinese nationals in Karachi in April.

Both China and Pakistan have condemned the acts of terrorism and doubled down on their “all weather” ties, a signal that the attacks have only strengthened Beijing’s resolve to continue its heavy investment in the region.

  • Following the Karachi attack, Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari committed to “high quality development” of CPEC, especially in special economic zones (SEZs) in a virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wáng Yì 王毅 on May 11.
  • The Chinese Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires Páng Chūnxuě 庞春雪 vowed that the “blood of the Chinese people…will not be in vain” and that any attack aimed at the partnership was “doomed to fail.”
  • Pakistan also said it condemns any acts of terrorism and “cherishes the lives and safety of Chinese nationals in the country, and regards Chinese victims and those wounded as its own.”

Cue fears of an escalation: “The question is, will China, in collaboration with Pakistan, resort to fully-fledged military action to rout Baloch separatists and TTP militants?” Syed Fazl-e-Haider writes for the Lowy Institute.

  • Economic linkages in Pakistan, which neighbors Xinjiang Province, were once seen as “the most effective way” to mitigate Beijing’s concerns that Uyghur separatists were receiving indoctrination and training across the border.
  • Chinese Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 expressed his shock and outrage at the Karachi attack on a phone call with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on May 16, following urges from Beijing for Pakistani authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
  • State mouthpiece Global Times called for the “cowardly group will definitely be found out and must be resolutely annihilated” while questioning the “serious loopholes in Pakistan’s protection work.”
  • “The BLA will definitely be more resolutely annihilated. I support Chinese military to launch direct air strikes against this terrorist organisation’s camp after getting approval of the Pakistani government,” Hú Xījìn 胡锡进, the former editor-in-chief of Global Times, wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the instability in Pakistan is fanning concerns of instability in neighboring Afghanistan, where Beijing has also sought to tap into the nation’s resources in the recent Tunxi Initiative.

  • “Whereas in Pakistan China feels as if it has a reasonably stable counterpart, one of Beijing’s concerns about Afghanistan is that the Taliban government might collapse,” per Foreign Policy.

Nadya Yeh