China has increased its diplomatic pressure on Pakistan as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has urged his Pakistani counterpart to hold accountable the culprits in what he described as a “terrorist attack” on a bus taking Chinese workers, state media said on Friday.
Li, the most senior Chinese politician to have spoken on the incident so far, spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan by phone on Friday, according to state news agency.
An explosion on a bus in northern Pakistan on Wednesday sent it hurtling over a ravine and killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals. Li has asked Pakistan to “use all necessary measures” to investigate the incident and hold the culprits accountable, according to state news agency.
China is a close ally and major investor in Pakistan, and various militants opposed to the Pakistani government have in the past attacked Chinese projects. The Chinese workers killed on the bus were employed at the Dasu hydroelectric project, part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $65 billion investment plan aiming to link western China to the southern Pakistani port of Gwadar. CPEC is part of Beijing’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
Pakistan originally blamed a mechanical failure for the blast but on Thursday Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said traces of explosives were detected and that “a terrorist attack cannot be ruled out” as the cause of the incident.
China, which initially called it a “bomb attack”, was more circumspect on Thursday, referring to it as an “incident” before describing it as a “terrorist attack” on Friday as China has sent a special team for a joint investigation of the incident with Pakistan authorities. Chinese embassy in Islamabad issued a security alert on Wednesday to Chinese citizens and projects in Pakistan, reminding them to “stay alert, strengthen security protection, take strict precautions, and stop going out unless necessary.” Media reports quoting experts said, China-Pakistan relations could suffer, because once again Beijing has seen its nationals targeted, despite making repeated pleas to Pakistan for more security previously.