South Korean protestors hold placards during a protest against Saem-Mul Presbyterian church that sent 23 missionaries to Afghanistan in 2007. Photo: AFP / Choi Won-suk

Days after ISIS claimed responsibility for the deaths of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan, news reports inside and outside of China are portraying the event in decidedly different ways.

While the New York Times reported on the story in the context of China’s Belt and Road initiative, Chinese media focused on the involvement of the two victims in Korean missionary activities.

Quartz and the Times of India both seized on a sensationalized headline from the Global Times that read: “Exclusive! The truth behind the Chinese kidnapped in Pakistan tragedy: of course Koreans were behind it again!

The GT article seemed to cast blame on Korean missionaries for corrupting the young Chinese couple and putting them in a dangerous position, drawing criticism that the news outlet was shifting blame away from Islamic radicals.

Sometime after it was originally published the headline was toned down to read “The Real Story! Koreans take Chinese to Pakistan to proselytize, leads to kidnapping tragedy.” Following online criticisms GT went on to publish an editorial defending their coverage of the events.

They wrote that as the first outlet in the Chinese media to publish commentary on the event they stressed “violent acts of terrorist groups should be harshly condemned.”

The article added that while they respect the feelings of Christians who memorialize the sacrifice of missionaries, “as Chinese media, we have the moral right to demand Korean religious groups to value the lives of Chinese followers. You shouldn’t send these naïve young people to a sensitive region fraught with religious conflict.”

While the original headline was sensationalized and misleading, the idea that the Chinese media is trying to shift blame away from ISIS is ridiculous. China is concerned about terror threats, not just in Pakistan as Chinese move there to support Belt and Road, but also in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

The fact is that the Global Times is not alone in their criticism of Korean missionaries in the Middle East. Indeed, many Koreans themselves have been outraged at such activities that have led to kidnappings and deaths in the past.

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