Last week ISIL claimed responsibility for the killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan. The incident occurred as China is extending its economic reach around the globe—an effort likely to result in heightened risks for its people.
Adding insult to injury, the incident is reportedly related to a Christian aid worker from South Korea, a country that has angered much of China by permitting the deployment of a US antimissile system. Here is what we know so far:
On June 8, ISIL said it killed two Chinese citizens it abducted last month in Pakistan’s southwestern province Baluchistan. One day later, China’s foreign ministry acknowledged learning from the Pakistani side that the two were likely dead, but didn’t provide any details.
Yesterday (June 12) Pakistan’s interior ministry confirmed that the two Chinese nationals had been killed. In a statement to Reuters, it named the victims as Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi, both in their mid-twenties, and said they were actually preachers who had misused business visas to enter the country.
Previous media reports identified the man and woman as Mandarin teachers. But the ministry said the two had been preaching in Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, under the guise of learning the local Urdu language from a Korean national. The ministry didn’t specify to Reuters what the two were preaching and whether the Korean is from South Korea or North Korea.
Queries about the activities of the three individuals were left unanswered by the foreign ministries of China and South Korea, as well as by Pakistan’s interior ministry.
China’s state media outlet were among the first to report that the deaths of the Chinese nationals could have been related to their activities spreading Christian teachings to members of the local Muslim community. The two belonged to a 13-member missionary group led by a South Korean citizen, according to two Chinese reports.
An “all-weather” Chinese ally, Pakistan is one of the earliest participating nations of China’s massive “One Belt, One Road (OBOR)” initiative, a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that aims to connect 60-plus countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of the initiative, and has drawn a great number of Chinese to the southern neighbor. At least 70,000 visas were issued to Chinese citizens in 2016, according to Pakistan’s interior ministry.
The recent killings have prompted Pakistan to increase security measures around Chinese nationals and CPEC projects.
ISIL is struggling to establish a presence in Pakistan. In May, the terror group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 25 people in the city of Mastung, also in Baluchistan. On June 4, the Pakistani military said it had killed 12 militants from an extremist group seeking to establish a foothold for ISIL in the province. ISIL announced the killings of the two Chinese soon after the military operation.
Baluchistan, with nearly half the land area of Pakistan, has a population of about 10 million. Separatist groups there have been fighting the Pakistani government for decades. Last month, at least 13 individuals working on CPEC projects in the province were killed by separatist militants in two separate attacks.
Both Beijing and Islamabad have tried to play down the security concerns.
The Korean connection in the killing has been widely covered by Chinese media, and stirred public anger against South Korea’s Christian missionary community. Both state media and government agencies have warned Chinese people not to preach in risky regions.
Media reports in South Korea have picked up the Chinese accounts, noting that Korean people are concerned (link in Korean) that anti-Korea sentiment could reignite in China. For months China and South Korea have been involved in a diplomatic standoff due to Seoul’s decision to allow the installation of THAAD, a US antimissile defense system, in the country. But there had been signs of a thaw in recent days, with Seoul partially delaying the system’s deployment last week so that an environmental impact assessment can be done.
It varies from country to country. Pakistan offers special visas to Christian missionaries, and the country’s laws don’t forbid its citizens from converting from Islam to another religion. But Pakistan’s Christians, comprising less than 2% of the nation’s population, are frequently attacked.