According to a report in the Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper on Monday, hundreds of children joined the ongoing protests in Gwadar which entered its 18th day on Sunday.
The protesters are threatening to block the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects if their demands, which included banning illegal trawling in Gwadar, are not met within a week.
“These reports are untrue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a media briefing here.
“The organisers have said in public that the protests are not targeting the Chinese side or the CPEC,” Mao said.
The Dawn newspaper further reported that the protesting children reached Gwadar city from Turbat, Pasni and other areas of the Gwadar district and marched through the streets carrying placards and banners.
They chanted slogans against the government and the authorities concerned for not implementing the agreement signed by the government to ban illegal trawling in Gwadar and eliminate unnecessary checkpoints, among several other issues, it said.
The protests by the locals against the USD 60 million CPEC have been taking place for several months.
Last year, the Dawn newspaper in a scathing editorial said “Gwadar port has long been portrayed as the jewel in the CPEC crown, but in the process, the city has become the very embodiment of a security state” with government focussing on securing the port and its ancillary interests while neglecting the welfare of the local people.
“Far from the port being a harbinger of an economic boom, the opposite has happened. Existing privations have deepened; people’s mobility is restricted by security forces and there is unwarranted questioning of their activities. Many say they are made to feel like strangers in their own land,” it said.
A large number of local fishermen also complain that the Pakistan government has issued licences to Chinese trawlers to fish in the waters off the Balochistan coast further “squeezing” their livelihoods.
Gwadar is pivotal to CPEC as it is the end point of the controversial project over which India has objected to China as it is being laid through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
CPEC connects Gwadar located on the Arabian sea coast close to Iran with China’s Xinjiang province. The project, which is being laid through Karakoram highway, provides China access to the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan has handed over Gwadar port development to China, sparking concerns that it could in the long run become a Chinese naval base.
Defending the Chinese projects in Pakistan, Mao said the “Gwadar port is a flagship port of CPEC”.
“It has focused on people’s livelihood. China always follows principles of mutual respect and consensus and consultation in this process. All the projects that China has in this zone, China has assisted in building primary schools, training academies, hospitals and also the solar panels donated by China, improving the lives of people,” she said.
Mao also declined to comment on the reports that bullet-proof vehicles will be provided for the security of hundreds of Chinese nationals working on various CPEC projects in Pakistan.
“I am not aware of the specifics but China and Pakistan are in close communication and cooperation to uphold the safety and security of Chinese nationals in the construction of CPEC,” she said.
Recent reports from Pakistan said China is putting pressure on the Pakistani government to permit Chinese security forces to protect the Chinese nationals working in CPEC projects.
Pakistan is reportedly averse to the proposal as it could result in public resentment over the presence of Chinese security personnel in the country.
During Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent visit to Beijing earlier this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping told him that he is deeply concerned about the security of Chinese people in Pakistan and hopes that Islamabad will provide a reliable and safe environment to them.
In April, three Chinese teachers were killed in Karachi University in a suicide bombing carried out by the separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which is opposed to China’s investments in Balochistan. BLA accuses China and Pakistan of exploiting the resource-rich province.
Several other attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan were attributed to radical Islamic militant outfits in Pakistan.
In her media briefing, Mao welcomed the death sentence handed by a Pakistani court to two men for planning the 2021 bomb attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers working on a hydropower project at Dasu.
Mao said Pakistan has carried out the investigations with utmost seriousness and made every effort to get to the bottom of the case and bring the perpetrators to full justice.
“This is much appreciated by China. Now that the suspects have been held accountable, we now know that justice has prevailed,” she said, adding that the Chinese nationals who lost their lives in the attack can now rest in peace.
China will remain firmly supportive of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts and hope the safety of Chinese nationals, institutions and projects in Pakistan will be duly protected, Mao said.
Thirteen people, including nine Chinese nationals, were killed and 23 others injured in the attack, which sent shockwaves in China.
An Anti-Terrorism Court at Hazara on Thursday last sentenced two men to death for planning the suicide attack on the bus. Four co-accused were also acquitted.