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China presses Pakistan to address security concerns of workers, projects

islamabad — China on Wednesday hailed its “ironclad” relationship with Pakistan and vowed to further enhance economic and anti-terrorism security cooperation between the neighboring countries at a bilaterial strategic dialogue in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi renewed the pledge at a news conference after hosting formal talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Ishaq Dar, who concurrently serves as deputy prime minister.

Broadcast live by Pakistan’s state-run TV, the media talk comes just weeks after a suicide car bombing in northwestern Pakistan killed five Chinese engineers who were working on a hydropower project. Their local driver also was killed.

The Pakistani military said this month that its probe into the March 26 attack revealed that an Afghan national carried it out and terrorists based in Afghanistan had planned it.

Wang stated that the Pakistani side promised to make every effort to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Chinese state media quoted him as expressing hope that Islamabad would ensure “the safety of Chinese personnel, projects, and institutions in Pakistan, and eliminate the worries of Chinese enterprises and personnel.”

Dar said that the dialogue with Wang also reviewed the Afghan situation, and both sides agreed that peace and stability in the war-ravaged neighboring country are crucial for regional development, connectivity, and prosperity.

“We are concerned about the continued presence of terrorist entities operating in Afghanistan and call upon the Afghan interim government to take credible and verifiable actions against such elements using Afghan soil to threaten the peace and security of the neighboring countries,” the Pakistani foreign minister said.

Wang calls for ‘united front’

Islamabad maintains that the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, was behind the car bombing and other attacks in the country, alleging that the terrorist outfit is being facilitated by Taliban authorities in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban leaders reject allegations that Afghan soil was used in the attack against the Chinese workers. They reiterated that no one is permitted to threaten other countries, including Pakistan, from Afghanistan.

Wang said, without mentioning Afghanistan, that Beijing “is willing to further deepen counter-terrorism security cooperation” with Islamabad. Without elaborating further, he called on the international community to “eradicate the breeding ground for terrorism” through a “united front” against the threat.

The China-Pakistan dialogue comes one day after a new report warned that power vacuums in Afghanistan created in the wake of U.S.-led allied troop departures are fueling the resurgence of transnational terrorist groups, including TTP.

“The post-U.S. withdrawal environment in Afghanistan offers terrorist groups a range of new opportunities for regrouping, plotting, and collaborating with one another,” said the study conducted by the U.S. Institute for Peace, based in Washington.

Beijing ‘ready to work’

Wang said Wednesday that Beijing is ready to work with Islamabad to advance the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC. The Chinese-funded multibillion-dollar collaboration has built roads, highways, power plants, and ports as part of President Xi Jinping’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Dar insisted the decade-long CPEC undertaking “has transformed Pakistan’s economic landscape by eliminating power outages and developing a robust infrastructure network, thus laying a strong foundation for Pakistan’s future development.”

Pakistan’s foreign minister noted that the two sides agreed to “further upgrade and expand” CPEC cooperation.

In a recent speech in Islamabad, Chinese Ambassador Jiang Zaidong referred to CPEC as a pilot project of BRI and said it had brought more than $25 billion in direct investment, created 155,000 direct job opportunities, and built 510 kilometers (316.8 miles) of expressways, 8,000 megawatts of electricity, and 886 kilometers (550.5 miles) of core transmission grids to Pakistan.

Some critics attribute cash-strapped Pakistan’s deepening economic challenges to CPEC-related Chinese investments and loans. A $3 billion International Monetary Fund loan helped the South Asian nation narrowly avoid default on its foreign debt payments last year.

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