Beijing (AFP) - China condemned on Thursday the armed kidnapping of a Chinese couple in Pakistan, after the abduction raised safety concerns for Beijing's multi-billion dollar investments in the country.
"The Chinese government attaches high importance to the safety of Chinese citizens overseas," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing.
"We condemn all forms of kidnapping activities," Lu said, adding that the government was working closely with Pakistani authorities to ensure their release.
The abduction happened Wednesday afternoon in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan, which is at the heart of the $50-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project but is racked by separatist and Islamist insurgencies.
"They were dragged into a vehicle without number plates by three unknown men," senior local police official Aitzaz Goraya told AFP.
One Chinese woman managed to escape as the men began firing in the air to scare off onlookers.
A passer-by, Muhammad Zahir, was shot as he tried to prevent the abduction.
He told AFP he saw three men forcing a Chinese woman into a white car but she was resisting and crying.
"I stopped to observe the situation but they had forced the woman in the car by then and were pushing the man.
"So I rushed to them and asked what they were doing. One of them said, 'We are from the crime branch of the police and we are taking them for investigation' and I told them that they should not misbehave with people. Then the driver came out and shot me in my leg," the 35-year-old said.
China's deputy chief of mission in Islamabad, Zhao Lijian, said the kidnapped pair had been studying Urdu at a language centre. Local police had earlier said they were teaching Chinese.
China is ramping up investment in Pakistan as part of a plan unveiled in 2015 that will link its far-western Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Balochistan with a series of infrastructure, power and transport upgrades.
Mineral-rich Balochistan has been plagued by Islamist and separatist insurgencies since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed in the fighting.
A greater push towards peace and development by Pakistani authorities, including with CPEC, has reduced the violence considerably in recent years.