The 29 Chinese workers kidnapped last month by Sudanese anti-government forces have been released and arrived in Nairobi on Feb. 7, 2012. They are currently in sound physical condition and a stable mood.[Photo/Xinhua]
The abductions of Chinese workers in Sudan and Egypt have heightened concern over the safety of Chinese nationals living or traveling abroad. But we should treat the rising trend of attacks against Chinese citizens rationally to ensure that overseas projects do not suffer unnecessarily, and the government should strengthen its early warning system against such attacks and take more preventive measures to reduce the risks.
The accelerating pace of globalization, and advancing means of communications and transportation have increased, in geometric proportions, the number of Chinese people going abroad in recent years.
In the 30 years before the reform and opening-up, only about 300,000 Chinese nationals traveled abroad, that is, an average of about 10,000 person-times a year, whereas the figure in 2011 alone was about 70 million. With the number of Chinese people traveling overseas increasing 7,000 times, the odds of a Chinese encountering trouble, too, has risen manyfold.
Also, in recent years an increasing number of Chinese companies have been engaged in international cooperation projects. Compared with their Western counterparts, Chinese companies offer lower production and labor costs to other developing countries. Therefore, most of the projects Chinese companies have contracted are in other developing countries, and a majority of them are in infrastructure construction and need manpower to execute.
The reason why some Chinese workers face a high risk of being attacked is that some of these developing countries are politically unstable with relatively sharp social contradictions, which could trigger conflicts and violence.
Furthermore, China's increasing economic strength and growing influence in international affairs in recent years have made some anti-government forces in volatile regions believe that they can exert greater pressure on their governments to achieve their political ends by abducting Chinese nationals. And criminal gangs that abduct people for ransom think that Chinese nationals are more "lucrative targets".
So, in more ways than one, Chinese workers abroad often become the passive victims of political turbulence or abductions.
Some people may ask why should China continue to invest in or provide aid to countries where the security environment is relatively poor. But no place can be absolutely safe in today's world. Even the world's most developed countries, including those in North America and Europe, are not free from trouble. Occasionally, somebody goes on a shooting spree, killing innocent people even in the most advanced countries.
Today, it is almost impossible for a country to maintain economic growth without participating in global economic cooperation, and giving due importance to its domestic and foreign resources and markets.
True, there are more risks abroad. But no opportunity comes without inherent risks. Development potentials are much higher in developing countries because they lag behind their developed counterparts in almost every field. Besides, they also offer mutually beneficial cooperation.
There is no doubt, though, that Chinese companies, citizens and government should make greater efforts to reduce the risks. It is very important that companies conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of their destination country, including its political situation, economic structure, business practices, and the social and international environment before investing or signing a contract. This will give them ample time to develop contingency mechanisms.
A Chinese national, on his part, should be aware of the warnings issued by the consular department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chinese embassies and consulates before venturing abroad, and prepare psychologically and materially to cope with potential risks.
The government has taken prompt action to protect the lives of Chinese nationals abroad and set up an inter-ministerial emergency response mechanism for people living or traveling overseas. Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established an overseas citizens' protection center to respond quickly during emergencies and effectively mobilize domestic and international resources to help overseas Chinese.
In March 2011, the government evacuated nearly 36,000 Chinese nationals from Libya in 10 days, reflecting the efficacy of the mechanism.
Chinese embassies and consulates, too, have set up emergency response mechanisms to rescue Chinese nationals from trouble, maintain close contact with host countries' diplomats, military, police, Customs, media, transportation departments, and to keep in touch with companies overseas, and compatriots and students traveling or living abroad.
In case of an emergency, the mechanism can swing into action immediately to provide aid to and rescue Chinese nationals.
But with the protection and rescue of overseas compatriots getting more complex, the government should increase investment to hire more personnel and set up more facilities to protect Chinese nationals abroad.
The author is the president of China Institute of International Studies.