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How should China protect its citizens overseas?
2004/06/22

The Afghan authorities has strengthened safety and security for the Chinese workers following the attack on Chinese workers. The number of police protecting the work-site rose from four to 40. On June 14, a committee made up of "officials from army, intelligence department and police" had been established for investigation of the terrorist attack on Chinese workers, announced Mohammed Omar, Governor of Kundus Province.

Chinese workers overseas face greater danger

With the expansion of China's contacts with foreign countries, more and more Chinese citizens go overseas. Statistics show that more than 20 million went abroad in 2003. As the number increases, the dangers they face have become more and more prominent.

In the past few months, one after another terrorist attacks and accidents stroke into our memory a lot of strange names in the world, Morecambe Bay in England, Gwadar Port in Pakistan and Kundus in Afghanistan. The long lasting Palestinian-Israeli conflicts and the war situation in Iraq have arrested the great attention of the Chinese people.

In recent years, due to intensification of global and regional conflicts, the deepening of various types of social and economic conflicts as well as the spread out of terrorism around the world, the safety environment for Chinese citizens is deteriorating in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Southeast Asian countries. Of these countries, Israel, Iraq and Afghan are the most dangerous areas with more uncertainties for Chinese workers.

The Middle East is the earliest region China exported labors. Before the Iraqi war, there were more than 30,000 Chinese workers working in that region. Among them, 230, 000 worked in Israel. UAE, Jordan, Sudan and Egypt are countries where many Chinese workers stay.

In South Asia, Chinese workers mainly work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are 500 Chinese workers in Afghanistan but there are more Chinese workers in Pakistan, at least 5,000 who work for the earthwork at Barotha Hydropower Project, expansion of Port of Gwadar, etc.

Usually located in remote mountains, riversides or deserts far away from cities, these projects easily become the target of criminals. However, the places are basically safe since the work-sites and living-quarters are very concentrated and enclosed. Chinese workers there seldom contact with the outside world. In addition, local militia, guards and troops impose tight security measures. Attacks on Chinese workers there are likely to take place when they leave their working or living areas. For instance, the bomb attack on May 3 at the port of Gwadar took place when the Chinese workers are on their way to the work-site.

Why are the Chinese attacked?

The frequent attacks on Chinese citizen overseas and accidents have evoked a change of impression in many people's minds "Chinese are the safest foreigners". The Chinese citizens can be threatened even if the attacks are not targeted at them. Under the circumstances it is almost impossible for Chinese to stay aside without minding the others.

Experts say, most attacks are not targeted directly at Chinese even though a number of Chinese encountered misfortunes. These incidents can be classified into three categories:

1. Chinese citizens happen to be on the spot of attack. e.g. the bus bomb attack in Jerusalem on January 29. The attackers didn't know they were attacking the Chinese because they couldn't distinguish Chinese from Japanese, Korean or Filipino.

Take the abduction of Chinese citizens in Iraq for example; the kidnappers thought at first that they kidnapped Japanese. When they know the kidnapped were Chinese, they set them free.

2. Pure incident or natural disaster, e.g. landslide in Kazakhstan on March 14; cockle pickers' death at the Morecambe Bay in England on Feb 5; roof collapse in De Gualle Airport on the 23rd of May.

3. Attacks on Chinese due to unknown reasons. For instance, terrorists will not spare to kill innocent people in order to gain political profits and create influence. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have broken the balance in the region and triggered off the internal conflicts. Anti-US resentments have become unprecedentedly high. In a situation in which terrorists and extremists frequently encounter blows and the room for them keeps on shrinking, they have to make use of unconventional methods, i.e. abduct and kill foreigners to achieve their objective, which cannot be achieved by any other means. This doesn't mean Chinese citizens are their targets. Whoever they encounter will become these terrorists' targets.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Egypt said attacks will be likely to happen in the future due to the complicated situation in the Middle East.

Attacks on Chinese citizens are different from the terrorist attacks on the US citizens. After attacks on the US citizens, someone will claim responsible for the attack, which shows their resentment for the US foreign policy and military operation. But nobody claims responsible for the attack on Chinese citizens, which indicates the attack is perhaps a result from conflicts between Chinese's economic activity and local interests.

Enhance safety consciousness, take more effective measures for ensuring safety

The increasing attacks on Chinese working overseas have brought up a new subject for the Chinese government and its foreign policy. Chinese government recently released a series of measures, which fully demonstrate the "people-first" thoughts.

China, in a fairly long period, has become a target of terrorist attacks and landed to be the victim of terrorism. Therefore China should be resolute in combating terrorism of any forms along with the international community. It will not give in to terrorism and will adopt "go outside" strategy; on the other hand, it will impose effective and concrete measures in safeguarding the Chinese working overseas and the projects.

Fist of all, the Chinese companies assisting construction of foreign countries need to enhance their safety consciousness. More cost for safety should be incorporated into their budget for bid; more effective safety measures ought to be taken. The recent series of attacks revealed flaws in the Chinese companies' safety work: the building sites are all in the air, working sites are lack of protective means and safety equipment. Experts suggest to build high walls round the construction sites and living areas; set up electronic wire and 24 hour TV surveillance system, install bullet proof glass on vehicles and on buildings with windows facing streets; not to hoist flags or logos that tell foreigner's identity; preparing enough bullet proof jackets and masks; buy anti-terror insurance for employees; make strict leave system.

Second, in special regions like Iraq and Afghanistan, China and the assisted companies and assisted countries should maintain a joint safeguard measure. China should request the assisted countries to send troops to protect the Chinese workers if necessary. It should improve communication with local government and police.

Thirdly, publicize China's image in host countries. Projects built by China create vast wealth and lots of job opportunities for local people. China can help build schools, hospitals, highways, bridges and penstocks. These facts will make the local residents feel Chinese is sincere in helping local people.

Fourthly, should terror attack against Chinese citizens happens, China ought to push the local government and police to carry out investigation. If necessary, China can consider dispatching Chinese police to assist their investigation. The criminals must be penalized without mercy. In the meantime, China should ask for reparation according to international practice and actual losses.

When calculating profits and costs, safety costs should be taken into consideration. Safety index and danger degree should be differed by regions. Chinese should request protection from the host country and consider the possibility of sending China's own security personnel there.

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