BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China expressed shock over a bus explosion in Pakistan that killed 12 people, including nine Chinese citizens, and called on the South Asian country to protect projects valued at tens of billions of dollars.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi to quickly investigate the cause of the blast on Wednesday (July 14) on a bus carrying workers in the northern Kohistan region, according to a statement from China.
Mr Qureshi said an initial probe indicated the explosion was an accident, not a terrorist attack and pledged to share any outcome with China.
“China is shocked by the serious casualties of Chinese personnel in Pakistan today,” Mr Wang was cited as saying in the statement. “If this is a terrorist attack, the perpetrators must be arrested immediately and be severely punished.”
“Lessons should be learnt from this incident and security measures for China-Pakistan cooperation projects should be further strengthened to ensure the safe and smooth operation of all projects,” according to the statement.
Concerns are mounting over the advance of the Taleban in neighbouring Afghanistan, which threatens to disturb peace across the region. At particular risk are projects worth US$60 billion (S$81 billion) in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a crucial part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wider Belt and Road Initiative.
The bus was carrying 32 people to a dam and hydro-electric project in Dasu, near the border with China, Mr Fazal-e-Rabi, an assistant to the deputy commissioner of Kohistan, said over the phone. Two security officials were among the dead, he said, without giving details of the blast.
The bus plunged into a ravine after a “mechanical failure resulting in leakage of gas that caused a blast”, said Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on Wednesday.
“Further investigations are underway. Pakistan attaches great importance to safety and security of Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in Pakistan.”
An editorial in the Chinese Communist Party-backed Global Times on Wednesday said the explosion was “clearly an act of terrorism that is both carefully planned and supported by information”.
Pakistan has recently seen a resurgence in terrorist attacks, complicating Prime Minister Imran Khan’s efforts to overcome an economic crisis with Chinese help. If terrorists are responsible, it would be the worst attack in Pakistan’s mountainous north since a 2013 shooting by gunmen who killed nine foreign climbers on Nanga Parbat, the second-highest peak in the country.
Pakistan’s military has reported 11 such incidents in the north and south-west region since June, killing 22 soldiers.
The South Asian nation is likely to be among the countries most impacted by the United States troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taleban continues to capture key districts amid a retreat by Afghan soldiers.
The nation has suffered from terrorism for more than a decade after supporting the US following the Sept 11 attacks.