China looks for answers over killing of nationals in Pakistan

As China searches for answers about the execution of two of its nationals in Pakistan, experts have said that blaming South Korean missionaries for their deaths amounted to misleading the Chinese public.

Beijing said on Wednesday it would cooperate with Islamabad to verify whether the two Chinese citizens kidnapped and killed in Balochistan were involved in illegal preaching activities.

Though Pakistan’s interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has confirmed the death of the Chinese nationals, Beijing has stopped short of an official confirmation and the foreign ministry has said it is waiting for more information from Islamabad.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang did not directly comment on reports in the Chinese state media – which took a cue from Pakistan’s interior ministry – that alleged Lee Zingyang, 24, and Meng Lisi, 26, were preaching Christianity in Quetta under the guise of learning Urdu. The reports also alleged that South Korean missionaries had misguided the Chinese nationals to preach Christianity in Pakistan.

“Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning (the) Urdu language from a Korean national (and) were actually engaged in preaching,” the Pakistani interior ministry said in a statement.

The murders, claimed by the Islamic State, have raised questions about the security of Chinese workers in Pakistan, central to the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The centerpiece of the new Silk Route plan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, passes through insurgency-hit Balochistan.

The kidnapped man and woman were part of a group of 13 Chinese nationals brought to Quetta in November by a South Korean who runs a school. Language education was merely a front for conducting religious activities, the Shanghaiist website quoted a Global Times report as saying.

Experts said the move to blame South Korean missionaries for allegedly “misleading and misguiding” Chinese youngsters into preaching Christianity in foreign countries, in fact, amounted to misleading the Chinese people.

“Most Chinese Christians have become Christian through Chinese evangelists. It has been very difficult for foreign citizens to proselytise in China. China does not have a visa category for religious clergy or missionaries,” Yang Fenggang, director of the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, told Hindustan Times over email.

“Some foreign students, professionals and business people may do evangelistic work within China, but evangelistic activities are restricted.”

Carsten T Vala from the Department of Political Science, Loyola University, Maryland, agreed.

“Chinese nationals are themselves quite active in foreign missionary work and in more than ten years of interviews of Chinese Christians, I found a number of Chinese Christians who were eager to go abroad as missionaries. At least one Chinese church leader I interviewed reported his congregation had sent missionaries to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Arabic-speaking countries,” Vala, an expert in religion in China, said.

Vala added that “The Back to Jerusalem Movement” has provided impetus for Chinese Christians to proselytise in countries between China and Israel. “That movement has stirred ambitions among many Chinese Christians as well and this is a homegrown movement,” he said.

Reports said South Korea is second to the US in sending missionaries to other countries. But it‘s not easy to gauge how active the South Korean missionaries are for two reasons – it’s not easy for foreigners to preach in China and because of lack of research.

Yang pointed out that even it was found that the two dead Chinese nationals were preaching Christianity, it’s the IS terrorists who should be blamed, not anyone else.

“Even if it is found true that these two Chinese went to Pakistan for the purpose of Christian evangelism, blaming South Koreans is irresponsible. These were adult young people who made their own decisions to go there… Finally, if it was true that these Chinese were killed by the Islamic State’s terrorists, it is the terrorists that should be blamed, not anyone else,” Yang said.

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