Baluchistan: Gwadar Rights Movement leader, Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, issued a warning to Chinese nationals to leave the Gwadar port area, reported The Maritime Executive.

Maulana issued a threat to the Chinese nationals living in Gwadar, according to reports, warning that if the government "ignores" their peaceful protests, the participants have a right "to pick up and use weapons to protect our rights."

Media reports suggest that there are fewer than 500 Chinese in Gwadar, all based in the Gwadar Port compound, reported Asian Lite International.

Protests on the expansion of Pakistan's Gwadar Port, a key asset for China's BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) in Asia, continue to escalate, potentially jeopardizing economic ties between China and Pakistan, reported The Maritime Executive.

Last week, the events took a new twist after a protest leader warned Chinese nationals to leave Gwadar by the end of the week.

Chinese citizens are facing increasing threats from different militant groups in Pakistan, with a rise in recent incidents of targeted attacks on China nationals.

The growing anti-China sentiment in Gwadar may adversely impact the progress of key CPEC projects.

The protests led by Rehman, affiliated with the Gwadar Rights Movement, have been going on for about two months.

The protests mainly involve blocking Gwadar's port entrance and the Gwadar East Bay Expressway, a key artery connecting the port with Pakistan's main highway network, reported The Maritime Executive.

Participants are demanding an immediate ban on illegal trawling in Balochistan's maritime boundaries, recovery of missing Baloch people, closure of unnecessary security checkpoints, primacy to local workers over Chinese citizens, maximum concessions in border trade with Iran, and end to narcotics, among other Gwadar-related issues.

The protesters also want the government to ease curbs on informal border trading with Iran. While these demands are not directly linked to Chinese projects in Gwadar, experts argue that many locals believe the developments are part of the problem, reported The Maritime Executive.

Last year, Rehman led similar protests for over 32 days. He called the action off after the government promised to address his raised demands, which the protesters now say were never resolved.

Rehman and the other protestors had largely avoided threatening China openly last year.

Rehman's decision to issue a warning to Chinese nationals is seen as a move to coerce the Pak Government into a negotiation, reported The Maritime Executive.

Since 2021, Chinese nationals have been the target of terror attacks in Pakistan. This includes a bomb attack in July 2021, which killed at least nine Chinese workers on a bus heading to the Dasu hydropower project site.

These threats have prompted Beijing to press Islamabad to guarantee security for its nationals. When Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited Beijing last month, the security of the Chinese in Pakistan was among the items on the agenda.

With protesters demanding urgent government attention, it may well be that the security of the Chinese is being used as leverage for negotiations. Rehman has also vowed to stop all Chinese projects in Gwadar and prevent the movement of high-profile dignitaries in the port town, reported The Maritime Executive.

Pakistan enjoys a special economic relationship with China, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is regarded as the crown jewel of the BRI. It will offer China the shortest access to the markets of Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe through the deep-sea port of Gwadar.

CPEC is slated to cost over USD 50 billion, including the development of highways, railways, and special economic zones. Gwadar Port is the linchpin of the initiative.

Although CPEC was launched back in 2015, local resistance has significantly affected its pace. The project further slowed during the administration of the previous Prime Minister Imran Khan due to friction between his government and China, but the new administration appears keen to revive CPEC, reported The Maritime Executive.