ISLAMABAD - Pakistani media are reporting that Chinese human traffickers are operating illegal matchmaking centers in Pakistan, where they allegedly trap women from economically burdened families in fake marriages before transporting them and forcing them into prostitution or even selling their organs in China.
The revelation prompted the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad to respond Saturday, saying the businesses are strictly prohibited under Chinese law and vowing to crackdown in cooperation with Pakistani authorities on the illegal practice of profiting through cross-border matchmaking.
The number of Chinese visiting neighboring Pakistan has dramatically increased since the launch of the bilateral multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) five years ago. The flagship pilot project of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has brought an unprecedented $19 billion in much-need Chinese investment to Pakistan.
News reports about phony marriages between Chinese men and Pakistani women regularly appear in local media, prompting lawmakers to debate the issue and demand that officials look into the unlawful practice.
The Chinese Embassy's reaction apparently came a day after a top private Pakistani television station aired images Friday of several Chinese men with six local women in different rooms, including two teenage girls, at an illegal matchmaking center in the eastern city of Lahore.
The ARY News channel crew showed up unannounced at the facility along with local police and interviewed the foreigners, their local facilitators and the alleged Pakistani wives of the Chinese men. When asked, the station said, members of the alleged gang of Chinese human traffickers failed to produce local marriage certificates or documents showing the men had converted to Islam before marrying Pakistani Muslim women, which is mandatory under local laws.
The Pakistani victims explained that in return for their marrying Chinese men, their families would get about $300 per month and a Chinese visa for male family members. The local facilitators told the TV channel they would lure families into an agreement by saying their would-be Chinese son-in-law was seeking Pakistani citizenship so he could invest in the country as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
'We remind both Chinese and Pakistani citizens to remain vigilant and not to be cheated. We hope that the public does not believe in misleading information and works together to safeguard China-Pakistan friendship,' the Chinese Embassy said in its statement.
It noted that both countries are firmly opposed to human trafficking and sales of human organs and rejected as 'misleading and groundless' reports about sales of human organs in China.
Cooperation on crackdown
'China is cooperating with Pakistani law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal matchmaking centers,' the embassy said, adding that both Chinese and Pakistani youths were victims of the illegal agents.
While briefing Pakistani lawmakers at one of the recent meetings, senior government officials reportedly said Islamabad was in close contact with Beijing about fake marriages and action was being taken to counter the practice. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Tariq Sardar, was quoted as telling the meeting that 'some private marriage bureaus were involved in these marriages' and 'most of the complaints were being received from Lahore as well as the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.'
Pakistan and China are extremely sensitive to any critical reporting on their relationship. Officials on both sides also discourage skepticism and criticism of the CPEC as well as BRI investments as Western propaganda. Beijing and China defend the CPEC as a highly productive initiative, saying it has created tens of thousands of local jobs and resolved a decade-long crippling power crisis in Pakistan.
The United States contends China's BRI projects are of dubious economic value and contain national security elements favoring Beijing. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was trying to warn countries about the risks.