There are said to be over 60,000 Chinese nationals working in Pakistan on projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and other projects. Many of them live and work on their own risk, with several having been targeted across Pakistan, by citizens and terrorists alike since the launch of CPEC in 2015. The recent decision by the Pakistan government to give compensation to Chinese nationals killed or wounded in terrorist attacks in some ways comes as a surprise. The cash starved Pakistan government has approved immediate payment of US$ 11.6 million to those Chinese nationals who had either lost their lost lives or were wounded, in the terrorist attack on the Dasu hydroelectric project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in July 2021. Subsequently, the Chinese company working on the project has resumed operations! Blackmail or genuine compensation? Let us see!
The decision to compensate the Chinese nationals was taken by Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet chaired by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin recently. The fact is that the decision to pay compensation to the Chinese workers as a ‘goodwill gesture’ was approved considering the depth of Pakistan’s relations with China states the official release of the Finance Ministry. Clearly, the Chinese have had enough of their citizens getting killed by Pakistani terrorists, otherwise why would Pakistan describe the issue as a ‘irritant’ in the relationship? A total of ten Chinese nationals lost their lives and another 26 were hurt in a suicide attack on a bus that was carrying them to the work site of the Dasu Hydropower Project on 14 July last year.
The story is that after the attack the Chinese contractor China GezhoubaGroup Company suspended work and demanded compensation of US$38 million.The Pakistani government had worked out four different compensation packages ranging from US$4.6 million (PKR 810 million) to US$20.3 million (PKR 3.6 billion). The Pak government settled on the figure of US$ 11.6 million by taking into account the amount paid to Chinese workers in 2004 and brought it in line with current rates by using purchasing power parity based-GDP per capita. Interestingly, this is six times the amount that China gives to its citizens who die under similar circumstances.
In 2004, a Chinese national had died while working on the GomalZam Dam Project.At that time, Pakistan paid US$100,000 to his family. The incident had also left another Chinese national injured, who received US$50,000 from Pakistan.The Express Tribune reported that after the Dasu incident (Pakistan) government “tried to downplay the terrorist attack as an accident caused by gas leakage”. China immediately retaliated and cancelled a scheduled meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee.The Chinese contractor not only stopped work but also demanded a compensation of US$38 million. In effect, China has blackmailed Pakistan to cough up the compensation, with the warning that such incidents should not occur in the future.
Notably, during the week ending14 January 2022, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves fell by US$551.7 million, which is 2 per cent of its total kitty.State Bank of Pakistan data showed that the country’s forex reserves fell from US$23.9 billion to US$23.35 billion owing to external debt and other payments. This is only the tip of the iceberg and there is talk of Pakistan approaching the International Monetary Fund for another loan. Politically, this has led to some Pak politicians dubbing PM Imran Khan as a “International Beggar”. Even China which earlier had been an eager lender to Pakistan has in recent years reduced its grant of aid to Pakistan.
The issue of Chinese nationals in Pakistan being targeted has become an irritant in bilateral ties ever since the CPEC began.This is because the Chinese are present in virtually every single economic sector and are taking away the jobs that should have rightly gone to local Pakistanis. Also, many Chinese tend to behave like lords in Pakistan and this has often created social tensions.One recent report in The News suggests that there could over five million Chinese in Pakistan by 2025!If this figure is true, very soon Pakistan will become a province of China. Incidentally, both countries are setting up a China Pakistan Health Corridor to cater for the Chinese present in Pakistan. Just imagine, Pakistan paying for the health of Chinese workers living in their own country, when they are unable to look after the health of their own people. It is estimated that currently there are over 100,000 Chinese nationals living and working in Pakistan.
According to Pakistani media, over the past few years, Chinese apprehensions about lack of progress in CPEC projects have been increasingly visible. With many projects getting into controversies and facing delays, China slowed down on funding. Last year, China forced the Pakistani government to remove the controversial and “corrupt” chairman of CPEC, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, a close confidant of the Pakistani Army chief, with its own favourite Khalid Mansour in August last year, but the situation has not changed. China remains disappointed with incomplete projects, lapses in security of Chinese personnel working in Pakistan, particularly the Dasu incident on 14 July.
It is not as though Chinese nationals in Pakistan are being targeted by terrorists always. In some provinces like Balochistan, the nationalist fighters have been targeting the Chinese to send a signal that the CPEC is only benefitting China and gives no employment to the local population. There have been cases of Chinese being attacked by locals in several Pakistani cities for having taken away their jobs. Recently, a Chinese man died from inhalation of toxic gas at a factory and about a dozen others became unconscious.The Chinese man, identified as Zong Chung, was killed by poisonous gas in the chemical factory in the Industrial Estate. The Dasu incident led to China mounting immense pressure on Pakistan at a time when its economic condition is dire. This is only one of the several issues at stake which inter alia include, souring of China-Pakistan relations, China’s angst over the slow pace of CPEC projects and the overall suspicion within Pakistan that it has become a client state of China. Given this perspective, it was only natural for Pakistan to having bowed and paid China compensation for the death and injuries to nationals in the Dasu attack.