The unusual targeting of a Chinese worker in the sprawling port city will alarm the government, which is betting heavily on the $46bn China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) to transform Pakistan’s moribund economy. A Chinese engineer and his driver have been injured in a bombing in Karachi that was claimed by a little-known separatist group vowing to sabotage China’s multibillion-dollar investment programme in the country.

The two men were injured when a roadside bomb exploded at about 8.30am on Monday as their minibus passed through one of Karachi’s industrial quarters.

A piece of paper left at the scene was signed by the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, an obscure group seeking the independence of Sindh, one of Pakistan’s four regions.

The note denounced the ruling establishment that is largely drawn from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous region.

“As a rising imperialist power and supporter of Pakistan’s cause we consider China equivalent to Punjab,” the note written in Sindhi said. “We will oppose every anti-Sindh project including the China-Pakistan economic corridor.”

The security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan is a key concern to Beijing. In October, the country’s ambassador demanded that extra precaution be taken to protect those involved in CPEC, something Pakistan has repeatedly promised to do.

Although Karachi is a turbulent city plagued by Islamist militancy and criminal gangs, Chinese expatriates have not generally been considered targets.

Anwar Rao, a senior superintendent of police, said the wounded Chinese man did not have security with him because it was not considered necessary.

“We only provide security when there are tensions in the city and at their place of work,” he said. “We are trying our best to catch the culprits.”

The security of Chinese nationals has been much more of a headache for the Pakistani state in Balochistan, where a special military force has been raised just to protect CPEC projects from separatist forces.

The CPEC investment programme includes roads, railways and desperately needed power plants. It is part of an ambitious strategy that Beijing hopes will not only help stabilise a key ally but also give Chinese goods access to the Arabian Sea through the deep sea port at Gwadar on the Balochistan coast.

Three Chinese engineers were killed by a car bomb in Gwadar in 2004, an event that preceded more than a decade of nationalist unrest.

Today visiting Chinese officials and workers only move around the small fishing town with heavy security provided by the army and police.

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