New Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif made a personal visit to the Chinese embassy in Islamabad on Tuesday to meet officials. In a rare move, He also presented them with a handwritten letter, reaffirming his government's commitment "to eliminating all militants and terrorists from Pakistani soil".
China has condemned an attack that killed three of its citizens in Pakistan, demanding that Islamabad fight against those involved.
Three Chinese tutors and a Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide bombing near Karachi University’s Confucius Institute on Tuesday.
The separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said it carried out the attack.
The incident poses a key challenge for a government freshly-installed after weeks of political turmoil.
A long time ally and key investor in the country, China is heavily involved in large development projects across Pakistan. But the BLA, which is banned in Pakistan, opposes Chinese investment in the country, saying locals do not benefit.
Confucius Institutes are a key part of China’s soft diplomacy strategies across the world.
What have China and Pakistan said?
“China expresses its strong condemnation and great indignation at this major terrorist attack,” deputy director of the Chinese foreign ministry Zhao Lijian tweeted on Wednesday.
He urged Pakistani authorities to “deal with the aftermath” and “resolutely fight against terrorist organisations involved in the case”.
Top level Pakistan officials have also scrambled to appease China since the incident.
New Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif made a personal visit to the Chinese embassy in Islamabad on Tuesday to meet officials. In a rare move, He also presented them with a handwritten letter, reaffirming his government’s commitment “to eliminating all militants and terrorists from Pakistani soil”.
“We won’t rest until the culprits are hunted down and given exemplary punishment,” he wrote.
The chief minister of Sindh province – of which Karachi is the capital – also visited the Chinese consulate, reassuring officials that Pakistan “values the services rendered by Chinese experts in the country and the province” and that those involved would be “brought to justice”.
In a statement, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar termed the incident “reprehensible” and a “direct attack” on Pakistan-China relations.
Former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted from power in early April, also weighed in, calling the incident “yet another attack with a specific agenda of trying to undermine Pakistan-China strategic relationship”.
What did the BLA say?
The separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said the suicide bomber had been a woman.
It released a photo of a woman in fatigues raising two fingers in salute who it said had carried out the attack, and named her as Shari Baloch alias Bramsh.
Balochistan, rich in natural resources but Pakistan’s poorest province, is home to a long-running insurgency.
It is being transformed by major Chinese infrastructure projects on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a network of roads, railway and pipelines between the two countries which forms part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.
What is the significance of the Confucius Institutes?
The three Chinese nationals killed were teaching at the Confucius Institute of University of Karachi, which aimed to “deepen international understanding of Chinese language and culture, and promoting people-to-people exchanges between China and Pakistan”.
Since its inception in 2013 however, the faculty members – who were mostly Chinese nationals – had faced threats to their safety and had to follow strict security protocols, according to Pakistan daily newspaper Dawn.
They were escorted by a security detail to and from the institute every day and to their classrooms, where students would be frisked before being allowed to enter.
The Confucius Institute is a Chinese government-run global education programme.
The institutes are seen as a way to exercise “soft power”, with China spending approximately $10 bn (£7.8 bn) a year on CIs and related programmes, according to a 2018 report from the Council of Foreign Relations.
The institutes operate in co-operation with affiliate colleges and universities around the world. However the close relationship between these institutes and the Chinese government has sparked concerns over issues like academic freedom and political influence, especially over controversial topics like Taiwan, Tibet and Uighurs in Xinjiang.
In 2020, the US designated the Confucius Institute as a foreign propaganda mission, saying it was “owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government.