By Le Tian
The killing of nine Chinese working in an oil facility by an armed group in eastern Ethiopia on Tuesday has once again brought the safety of Chinese working or traveling abroad into focus.
The safety of Chinese has become an increasing concern as more and more mainland enterprises adopt a go-overseas strategy and recruit people to work for them abroad.
Regional turmoil and political instability, analysts say, are the main sources of danger for the Chinese working in Africa and the Middle East. Chinese enterprises have to devise a way to overcome this challenge.
One of the 35 Chinese workers in the Ethiopian facility is missing and seven have been abducted.
The Ethiopian tragedy is a possible demonstration of regional conflict, in which the Chinese oil workers became the sacrificial lambs, said Liu Naiya, an African studies' expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Anti-government organizations adopt terrorist tactics and attack multi-national companies to put the Ethiopian authorities in a corner and attract international attention to achieve their goal," Liu said.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist rebel group, fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia's eastern Ogaden region, has claimed responsibility for the pre-dawn attack. Liu said the terrorist act should be condemned because it could harm the blooming China-Africa economic cooperation.
The killing took place three months after nine Chinese workers were abducted in southern Nigeria.
Similar incidents occur frequently in Africa and West and Central Asia, where either religious or border dispute is at the core the problem.
"These frequent tragedies also remind us that China has to take real steps to overcome the challenges arising out of its expanding foreign trade cooperation," Liu said.
Chinese companies seeking to invest overseas should evaluate the security risks seriously before deciding to do business in a country, he said.
Analysts warn rising global and regional conflicts and the threat of terrorism has worsened the security environment in places such as Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. These will raise the cost of security for Chinese-funded enterprises.
A professor of Capital University of Economics and Business Zhang Zhixin says in an article published Wednesday that China should set up an all-round emergency mechanism to protect its nationals working overseas.
"Diplomatic staff stationed in foreign countries should do regular assessments of the regional security situation and work out plans, and make them available to Chinese nationals at home and abroad," Zhang said.
About 7,000 Chinese companies are believed to have invested overseas.
The number of Chinese traveling, studying or working abroad has increased manyfold in recent years.
Between 1949 and 1979, only 280,000 Chinese traveled or went to study or work abroad, while last year alone 32 million did so, according to Foreign Ministry figures. The figure is expected to reach 100 million by 2020.
(China Daily April 26, 2007)