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As the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has soured, Islamabad has cozied up to longtime ally China. But a boost in Chinese investment has sparked some resentment in southern Pakistan, where local activists accuse China of trying to be a new colonial power. A bomb blast recently hit near the Chinese consulate in Karachi - an ominous sign, as tensions continue to rise. NPR's Lauren Frayer traveled to Karachi, and sent this report.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: When Bashir Qureshi, a politician in his late 40s, died unexpectedly last month, the medical examiner said it was a heart attack. But Qureshi's friends and family don't believe that. Instead, they think there's been a conspiracy and that Qureshi was murdered - poisoned, in fact, by China.

IMTIAZ CHANDIO: He said that he has a lot of threats and probably, China also involved in his murder.

FRAYER: Imtiaz Chandio was Qureshi's best friend. Both men are Sindhi nationalists who believe that Chinese investment in Pakistan challenges their power in Sindh Province. The last speech Qureshi ever gave was against China, and it's now the ringtone on Chandio's cellphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED QUERESHI SPEECH)

FRAYER: FRAYER: The enemy won't break us. Long live Sindh, the crackly voice says.

There's absolutely no evidence linking China to Qureshi's death. But the conspiracy theory being floated by his friends, reflects their own suspicion of Chinese influence in their country. A longtime ally, Beijing recently pledged to multiply its investment in Pakistan - from 7 billion, to $30 billion a year. Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. and U.K., says that money couldn't come at a better time.

MALEEHA LODHI: Let's face it, foreign direct investment into Pakistan - have plunged to a historic low. Now, I think in this environment, when you have China - the second largest economy in the world - stepping up to the plate and saying that, we're prepared to help you; at a time when others are shy of coming into Pakistan - I think that more than offsets the fears that some may have.

FRAYER: The late Qureshi complained that China's big construction projects rely on Chinese workers and Pakistani migrants. Another Sindhi leader, Abdul Khalique Junejo, is spearheading opposition to the latest Chinese effort: a 1-million-acre, industrial megacity called Zulfiqarabad; a pet project of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

ABDUL KHALIQUE JUNEJO: President Zardari may be saying that will be a global project; and there will be development, there will be employment. But for whom? It will not be for Sindhis.

FRAYER: Junejo is furiously writing letters, and organizing peaceful protests. But the peace has already been shattered. The bomb blast near the Chinese consulate in Karachi last month, injured two people. And Junejo hints that violence may become widespread.

JUNEJO: If they ignore all these things, and go ahead with this project, then the resistance may take many shapes.

FRAYER: In the late '90s, China built the billion-dollar Gwader Port in Baluchistan, a troubled province that borders Iran and Afghanistan. But the port has hardly brought riches to the region. Locals blamed China for bringing its own workers, some of whom were attacked and killed. In neighboring Sindh, the Zulfiqarabad megacity has just broken ground - and prompted a local boycott of Chinese goods.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (in unison) (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (in unison) (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: China project unacceptable, protesters chant at a recent rally in Karachi, the capital of Sindh. Let your voices be heard all the way to China, they scream.

Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary, says activists' demands are unrealistic; for example, the idea that no outsiders - foreigners, or people from other Pakistani provinces - should be able to do business here.

TANVIR AHMAD KHAN: This would mean that there should never be a development project in Sindh; that Sindh should be consigned to a medieval economy forever and ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRAYER: On Pakistani Independence Day, a much smaller controversy erupted over China, maker of the miniature Pakistani flags people waved in the street. Some Pakistanis were upset the Chinese got their flag color slightly wrong, and that the flags weren't made in Pakistan in the first place.

Outrage over "made in China" is nothing new in America - take this year's Olympic uniforms, for example. But this may be the first such row her - perhaps of many to come - as China expands its influence in Pakistan.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Islamabad.

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