The burgeoning close connection between China and Pakistan through CPEC and other related projects was bound to bring apart from economic opportunities also cultural clashes between two culturally and religiously very different nations. Pakistani people remained unprepared when a stream of Chinese started pouring into our country. With their different language, social customs and practices the Chinese were bound to be considered alien not only because knowledge about Chinese culture is scarce but tolerance for being ‘different’ is even scarcer in Pakistan.
The latest tamasha started when the media reported that young Pakistani women mostly from our Christian community were allegedly lured into fake marriages or sold by their parents into marriages with Chinese men and brought out of the country to be later pressed into prostitution or have organs forcibly removed. Jameel Ahmad, a top official at Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which deals with human trafficking informed Reuters that Pakistani authorities arrested 12 suspected members of a prostitution ring taking young Pakistani women to China, part of a growing human trafficking problem often based on fake marriages. Those arrested included eight Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis. International organizations like Human Rights Watch warned Pakistan should be alarmed by recent reports of trafficking of women and girls to China. The allegations were disturbingly similar to the pattern of trafficking of “brides” to China from at least five other Asian countries.
The Chinese embassy in Pakistan said that Beijing is cooperating with Pakistan to crack down on unlawful matchmaking centers, rightly pointing out that “both Chinese and Pakistani youths are victims of these illegal agents”. A spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy said, “China’s position on the issue of transnational marriage is very clear, that is to protect legitimate marriages and combat crimes. If any organization or individual commits a crime in Pakistan under the banner of the cross-border marriage, China supports the Pakistani side to crack down on it according to Pakistani laws. According to investigations by the Ministry of Public Security of China, no forced prostitution or sale of human organs of those Pakistani women who stay in China after marriage with Chinese could be detected.
While the Chinese embassy acknowledged that some “unlawful matchmaking centers” were deceiving Pakistani and Chinese youth by brokering cross-national marriages for “illegal profits” other accusations have not been proven to be true until now. The Chinese investigations, however, appear to be ongoing as the embassy noted: the Ministry of Public Security of China sent a task force to Pakistan to carry out law enforcement cooperation with the Pakistani side. China will further strengthen cooperation with the law enforcement agencies in Pakistan to effectively combat crime so as to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the two peoples, and jointly safeguard China-Pakistan friendly relations. Several media reports have fabricated facts and spread rumors. We expect that the media reports should seek truth from facts, be objective and fair. We will never allow a few criminals to undermine China-Pakistan friendship and hurt the friendly feelings between two peoples”, unquote
Because Chinese parents like Pakistanis prefer sons to daughters a campaign of aborting female fetuses was going on for decades which resulted in a shortage of young women ready to be married to those single young men when they reached a marriageable age. What to do? Importing brides is thus an option to solve the demographical error that has been created. While the first choice would be daughters of Chinese families residing outside China like Indonesia, Malaysia and others, there still seems to be a dearth of brides. Like in any developing country young people, among them women, a fair amount of are looking for options to get out of Pakistan hoping for greener pastures elsewhere. There is nothing wrong in Chinese men coming to Pakistan to look for brides if they are honest in their endeavor.
The moment fake marriages are conducted aiming not at marriage and family creation but luring young women into prostitution the situation changes. Making money out of it and selling girls to men is a crime that has to be prevented and punished one must admit that Pakistan didn’t have to wait for the Chinese to come in search for brides; women trafficking and bride trading has a long history over here. We should have expected both our local and Chinese criminals to jump on the bandwagon to make money.
The Chinese embassy has rightly complained that unproven accusations by the media – Pakistani and otherwise- are harming the image of China in Pakistan and beyond. Given the international situation where the western world with the US in the lead are waging an economic, political and media war on China such unproven accusations will be grist for the western mills and Pakistan should not become a part of this unfair anti-China tirade. It is in Pakistan’s national interest not to damage our friendship with China. The Chinese are cooperating in the investigation of possible crimes that may have been committed and one can be quite sure that any Chinese criminal caught will meet his Waterloo. One wishes that the Pakistani prosecution and justice delivery would be as consequent.
The spokesman for the Foreign Office (FO) of Pakistan said it is “closely monitoring” the matter of alleged fake marriages of Chinese men with Pakistani women, “The Government of China had offered all possible cooperation on the issue, which was highly appreciated. Both sides are closely coordinating their efforts. referring to investigation by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security on the issue, there is no forced prostitution or sale of human organs of Pakistani women who stay in China after marriage with Chinese nationals.” The FO spoekesperson said It was essential to avoid sensationalization and report on sensitive matters only on the basis of established facts. Pakistan and China are All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partners. Friendship between the two countries enjoys strong public and institutional support in both countries. Both sides remain committed to strengthening this abiding friendship and strategic partnership in all dimensions, unquote
Criminals are elsewhere also the first to take advantage of new developments in a globalizing world by exploring the still undefined and uncontrolled legal space. The EU in the wake of their fast expansion towards Eastern Europe has some similar experiences to tell. While the criminal part of this globalization has to be checked the people-to-people contacts that create understanding of the different culture have to be cherished. Let’s not get carried away by fake-news attacks, particularly when they are motivated towards a deadly purpose, to derail China Pakistan relationship somehow.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.