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Safety of Chinese Overseas

More than ever before, Chinese people are going abroad where they face increasing risks from labor disputes, fraud,  robbery, kidnapping, and even terrorist attacks. There are more than 500,000 Chinese workers overseas and a similar number of students. The government takes the safety of every one of them very seriously.


Two Chinese women were cruelly killed in their house in the district of Richmond, Vancouver on Sept.1. Police named the victims as 70-year-old Wang Shuzhi and her 45-year-old daughter Li Aijuan. They had just immigrated to Canada from China’s Hainan Province.


Li and her husband Meng Weizhong bought the house last May. The couple lived in the second floor of the house with their 20-year-old son and Li’s mother. They rented out two rooms on the first floor to a family of five and two girls currently studying at a local university. Now with the murder still under investigation, everyone remaining in the house is under police protection.


Once again, the personal safety of Chinese abroad is attracting the attention of the Chinese people.


In 1978, just 200,000 Chinese citizens went abroad. By 2003, the figure had risen to 20.2 million, a hundred-fold increase in the space of 25 years.


Since the beginning of this year, there have been 10 separate incidents in which Chinese citizens have been attacked or killed overseas. These have left more than 70 dead or injured. People are becoming increasingly aware of the many risks ranging from natural disaster, terrorists attack, violent crime, and violation of their legal rights. There have been incidents in Kirghizstan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.


On July 21, Zhao Yan, a 37-year-old businesswoman from Tianjin, felt tired during a sightseeing trip to the Niagara Falls. She stopped for a rest near the Rainbow Bridge linking the United States and Canada. She was to suffer for taking this rest. A US custom officer assaulted Zhao with his knee and then drove her head into the pavement. He had wrongly suspected her of being involved in a marijuana related crime.


In Afghanistan, some 20 gunmen burst onto a construction site. They killed 11 Chinese workers and wounded four more in one of the bloodiest attacks on foreigners in that country.


On May 23, two Chinese nationals were killed and another injured when a large portion of the vaulted roof of a new passenger terminal caved in at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. They were with an eight-member trade delegation from a Beijing company and had been waiting for a flight from Paris to Mexico.


On May 3, members of a terrorist group remotely detonated a car bomb in an attack on Chinese engineers at Gwadar port, in southwest Pakistan. It killed three and injured nine others. The Chinese engineers had been helping the South Asian country with the construction of this important port project.


On April 11, seven Chinese nationals were seized as international hostages in war-ravaged Iraq. They were eventually released after 36 hours following a successful intervention by Chinese diplomats. The seven workers were from east China’s Fujian Province. They had been traveling to Baghdad from Jordan to look for work in Iraq.


Nine Chinese nationals have been killed in South Africa since the start of the year. The most recent case was the robbery-related murder of a visitor from Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. The South African authorities reported 52 armed robberies involving Chinese victims in the period January to August this year.


Robberies involving Chinese victims have been frequent occurrences in Britain too. According to a report by the Shanghai Evening Post, there have been a string of attacks linked to robberies in the northwest England seaport of Liverpool.


The most recent case involved a father and son surnamed Huang. They run a Chinese restaurant and a hotel in Liverpool. Robbers broke into the Huang home and demanded money. They stabbed Jimmy Huang in the shoulder when he refused. They then stabbed his 32-year-old son Kenny cutting his carotid artery. He ended up in hospital.


Liverpool has seen a recent and as yet, unsolved murder case involving a Chinese man by the name of Jiang Xingjiang. After having been missing for several days he was found dead in an apartment near his house. The police said he was probably beaten to death. According to the local media 51-year-old Jiang had just arrived from China. He had no regular employment and had been frequenting gambling houses in and around Liverpool.


Meanwhile in London, there were some 50 burglaries targeting Chinese students in the first half of this year. Typically, the perpetrators would stake out accommodation that had been rented by Chinese students before carrying out a robbery involving the use of weapons. The local police have now set up a special team to deal with such cases.


Experts have suggested that traditional Chinese customs might be encouraging the criminals to target Chinese victims. Even though the Chinese economy has seen rapid and sustained growth in recent years, it is still a common Chinese practice to keep money in the form of cash and to pay bills in cash. This tends to make Chinese business people and tourists particularly attractive to the criminals. A murder case in South Africa serves as an example. On July 16, two armed men robbed Wang Xiande. He was in Johannesburg on a business trip from Shanghai. They killed Wang's cousin and wounded Wang after stealing from them. The criminals fled with US$6,500 and 120,000 rand (US$20,000).


Recently, Chinese tourists have become the targets of criminals in European cities. Women and old people are especially vulnerable. Some have even been robbed before they left the airport.


Chen is an elderly man from Fuyang in southeast Chinas Zhejiang Province. His passport and money were stolen on his second day in Paris.


Liao Junqiao, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, suggests that three characteristics of the Chinese tourists may be getting them into trouble. They speak loudly, carry large amounts of cash and are big spenders.


Guo Longlong, a researcher with the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, says it is common for overseas Chinese to pay in cash because this is the custom in China. They are not familiar with the use of the credit or debit cards that are so widely used internationally. Some are unable to read and speak English, so how else other than by tendering cash could they pay bills they are not able to understand?


The Chinese government has begun to pay great attention to the safety of overseas Chinese. However, up to May 2004, China had entered into only 21 bilateral extradition agreements. This lack of reciprocity hinders its efforts to protect its citizens overseas.


On July 19, the State Council, China’s cabinet, held a special working conference to discuss the safety and protection of Chinese citizens and organizations overseas.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up a new department for external security affairs. Its remit is to tackle the increasing number of new security threats affecting Chinese citizens overseas, and to study the developing situation.


China’s top legislature has passed a resolution ratifying the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. This will help protect the safety of a number of its overseas citizens.


Experts point to the complexity and urgency of the problem, which they say should prompt the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government bodies to come up with additional measures designed to protect Chinese citizens abroad. They suggest that China should learn from the experience of the Western countries while establishing a sound and effective system to minimize the risks to Chinese citizens overseas.


(China.org.cn by Wu Nanlan September 28, 2004)

Special Envoy Visits S. Africa over Citizens' Safety
Safety of Chinese Abroad Discussed
Keeping Overseas Workers Safe
Protecting Citizens Overseas
Overseas Chinese Affairs Officials Told to Work Harder
Overseas Chinese Rights Protected
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