Sim­ply pay­ing ran­som may send wrong mes­sage

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Avideo re­cently re­leased by an ex­trem­ist group al­lied to the Tal­iban shows a Chi­nese na­tional re­sem­blingHong Xudong, who was ad­ducted by mil­i­tants from the north­west­ern re­gion of Pak­istan in­May 2014, seek­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s help to get him re­leased. The mil­i­tants, how­ever, have not cited an ex­act amount as ran­som.

Hong en­tered Pak­istan from In­dia by bi­cy­cle in April last year, and was ab­ducted a month later from Dera Is­mail Khan dis­trict in Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa prov­ince, which bor­ders Pak­istan’s tribal re­gions and are home to a num­ber of mil­i­tant groups.

The Chi­nese em­bassy in Pak­istan has re­port­edly ap­proached the Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties to ver­ify the man seen in the video, and Pak­istani PrimeMin­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has is­sued di­rec­tives to the In­te­rior Min­istry and other de­part­ments to co­or­di­nate for the early re­lease of the Chi­nese na­tional.

China to­day has more re­sources to pro­tect its na­tion­als over­seas. In­March, for in­stance, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment launched a mas­sive op­er­a­tion to evac­u­ate Chi­nese na­tion­als from war-torn Ye­men. But when over­seas res­cue op­er­a­tions could turn out to be com­pli­cated, which the one in Pak­istan is likely to be, should the gov­ern­ment act in­stan­ta­neously to pro­tect its na­tion­als re­gard­less of the risks and ex­penses in­volved? In other words, should it give in to the de­mand of the mil­i­tants?

It is very im­por­tant to first en­sure whether the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment or the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment is obliged to pay the ran­som. This be­ing said, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s legal obli­ga­tion largely de­pends on what led to the ab­duc­tion. If Hong was kid­napped while con­duct­ing of­fi­cial busi­ness, it is Bei­jing’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to save him. If not, the gov­ern­ment can act only on hu­man­i­tar­ian and po­lit­i­cal grounds, in­stead of launch­ing a mission that needs to be com­pleted at all costs.

The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment, on the other hand, has only the moral obli­ga­tion to in­ter­vene in the mat­ter, be­cause Hong cy­cled his way to Dera Is­mail Khan de­spite the ban on for­eign­ers trav­el­ing to the restive re­gion with­out se­cu­rity.

This is not to say, Bei­jing should stand by and al­low a Chi­nese na­tional’s life to be held to ran­som. But it needs to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of more Chi­nese tourists be­ing ab­ducted in a for­eign coun­try if the Tal­iban’s re­quest for money is­met. The dilemma is, us­ing public funds usu­ally comes at a price. Yet by re­fus­ing to save the Chi­nese na­tional’s life, Bei­jing could be ac­cused of act­ing ir­re­spon­si­bly.

China is in­deed fi­nan­cially ca­pa­ble of meet­ing the ter­ror­ists’ de­mand to se­cure the free­dom of the young Chi­nese tourist. The la­tent dan­ger of do­ing so is rather ob­vi­ous: af­ter get­ting the money from Bei­jing, the Tal­iban forces in Pak­istan can be em­bold­ened to abduct more Chi­nese na­tion­als and launch even big­ger ter­ror­ist at­tacks not only in Pak­istan, but also in other coun­tries. Worse, Bei­jing’s ges­ture may send a wrong mes­sage to other ter­ror­ist groups — that ab­duct­ing Chi­nese na­tion­als is a highly prof­itable busi­ness, which could threaten the safety of more Chi­nese peo­ple abroad.

Of course, there is more that Bei­jing and Islamabad could do to save Hong’s life. For ex­am­ple, they could ask lo­cal tribal and re­li­gious lead­ers to per­suade the ter­ror­ists to free him, or, en­cour­age the Pak­istani mil­i­tary to send a stern warn­ing to the ter­ror­ist group. Such moves may cost more than sim­ply pay­ing the ran­som to the ter­ror­ist group, but they are more suited to help­ing re­solve fu­ture cases. The au­thor is a re­searcher at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy, af­fil­i­ated to the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

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