China vows maximum effort to recover kidnapped citizens in Pakistan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday it will do all it can to ensure the safe return of two citizens kidnapped in Pakistan and it promised new measures to protect Chinese people and companies working in the country, an important link on its Silk Road infrastructure plan.

A soldier stands guard near the site where two Chinese language teachers were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen, in Quetta, Pakistan May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Gunmen pretending to be policemen kidnapped two Chinese language teachers in the Pakistani city of Quetta, in the violence-plagued province of Baluchistan, on Wednesday.

“China will continue to make maximal efforts alongside Pakistan to strive for the safe return of the kidnapped individuals as soon as possible,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing in Beijing.

“We will also take further actions to ensure the safety of Chinese individuals and organizations in Pakistan,” he added.

China has pledged to invest $57 billion in new rail, road and power infrastructure across Pakistan as a flagship project within its sweeping Belt and Road initiative to tie Asia to Europe and Africa by reviving ancient Silk Road trade routes.

Chinese officials have repeatedly urged Pakistan to strengthen security for its companies and individuals, especially in resource-rich Baluchistan, where China is building a port and funding roads to link its western regions with the Arabian Sea.

No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

In the past, Islamist militant groups have kidnapped foreigners in Pakistan for ransom or to drum up publicity for their cause.

Separatist rebels also operate in Baluchistan as do criminal gangs.

The China National Radio state broadcaster reported that three Chinese citizens, two women and a man, were eating in a restaurant in Quetta when gunmen men came in and dragged them toward a car without license plates.

A crowd formed around the kidnappers who then fired warning shots into the air. One of the Chinese woman then escaped, the broadcaster said, citing a witness.

Police in Quetta told Reuters the teachers did not work on Beijing-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects as they did not have guards.

Pakistan provides security for all Chinese workers on CPEC projects in Baluchistan.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel