China asked Pakistan on Friday to bring to justice planners of this week's "terrorist attack" in the neighboring country that killed at least nine Chinese workers and three of their Pakistani coworkers.
Premier Li Keqiang raised the issue with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan by phone, Chinese state media reported. Li stressed the need for Pakistan to "use all necessary measures" to investigate the incident and hold the culprits accountable.
Khan's office said in a statement that he assured Li that his government would spare no effort to fully investigate the incident. "No hostile forces would be allowed to damage brotherly relations between Pakistan and China," he added.
Wednesday's suspected suicide attack — the largest loss of life of Chinese citizens in Pakistan in recent years — targeted a two-bus convoy transporting Chinese and Pakistani workers to the China-funded Dasu hydropower project that is under construction in the northwestern Kohistan region.
Chinese officials were quick to blame a "blast" for causing the deadly incident.
"China is shocked by and condemns the bomb attack … mourns for the Chinese and Pakistani personnel killed in the attack, and expresses sympathy to their families and the injured," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing just hours after the attack.
Pakistani officials originally described the event as an accident, saying a "mechanical failure" triggered the blast and plunged one of the buses into a ravine.
Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Thursday, however, that traces of explosives were detected and that "a terrorist attack cannot be ruled out in the incident."
The confusion, VOA has learned, stemmed from medical examinations of the victims, none of whom carried explosives-related marks or injuries.
Sources said Pakistani investigators later retrieved a car and the body parts of its suspected driver, suggesting it was a suicide car bombing.
The bomber tried to ram his explosive-laden car into the first bus, but the ensuing blast did not go off with full intensity due to technical glitches, shattering windows but causing no harm to the passengers.
The explosion prompted the driver of the second bus to swerve to avoid a collision, plunging the bus into a ravine. That resulted in all the deaths and injuries, the sources said.
This is not the first time Chinese nationals have come under attack in Pakistan.
Beijing and Islamabad are traditionally close allies. In recent years, China has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan building roads, communication networks, ports and power plants under President Xi Jinping's global Belt and Road Initiative.
The bilateral collaboration, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, has brought more than $25 billion in Chinese investment over the past six years, along with thousands of Chinese workers and engineers to work on the mega project.
No one has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack.
Pakistani officials usually suspect separatists operating in southwestern Baluchistan province, the hub of CPEC projects, who often claim credit for plotting attacks against Chinese.
Islamabad accuses rival India of funding the Baluch militants to subvert its deepening economic partnership with Beijing, charges New Delhi rejects.
Pakistan has deployed tens of thousands of regular and paramilitary troops to protect CPEC projects and Chinese nationals working on them.
Officials also suspect the attack could be the work of the outlawed Islamist Pakistani Taliban militant group.
"There are complicated and deep changes in the global and regional situations," Li was quoted as telling Khan. "China attaches high attention to China-Pakistan relations and is willing to enhance strategic communications and coordination, deepen practical cooperation, safeguard regional peace and security and bring benefits to both peoples."
Pakistani officials said the Dasu dam project, where Wednesday's attack took place, is not part of the CPEC, but Chinese nationals live and work at guarded facilities in the area.
Local media reported Friday the latest attack on Chinese nationals prompted Beijing to abruptly postpone a long-awaited meeting with Islamabad to review progress on CPEC projects and related problems facing Chinese companies in Pakistan.
The meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee, which was intended to accelerate work on CPEC programs, was scheduled to take place Friday after nearly two years.
"The JCC-10 meeting on CPEC, which was scheduled to be held on July 16, 2021, has been postponed to a later date after Eid," Asim Saleem Bajwa, chairman of the CPEC Authority, tweeted Thursday.
This report includes information from Reuters.