Rise in number of Chinese abroad puts them at risk, minister warns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am

Chinese citizens overseas have become increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attacks and violence as growing numbers travel for business or tourism, a deputy foreign minister has warned.

Song Tao told the People's Daily that Chinese people had become direct targets of terrorist attacks, kidnapping, piracy and other incidents.

'Now we are facing a more complicated international security situation,' he said. 'With the financial crisis and the resulting recession in other countries, overseas Chinese nationals and businesses are surviving in a tougher environment.'

In July, the South China Morning Post reported that al-Qaeda had vowed to target Chinese workers and projects in northwest Africa to avenge the deaths of Muslims during rioting in Urumqi , Xinjiang . It was the first time al-Qaeda had directly threatened Chinese nationals. Chinese vessels have also fallen prey to piracy in hot spots such as the waters off Somalia.

Although most such incidents were triggered by unstable political or social situations in other countries, Song said an increasing number of cases were a result of Chinese nationals' ignorance of foreign legal systems or cultures.

'For example, some Chinese citizens or enterprises are not familiar with or fail to comply with local laws, causing labour disputes and closure of their ventures.'

In some other cases, Song said, Chinese citizens failed to respect local religions and traditions, fanning misunderstanding with residents.

'This behaviour not only hurts them and their companies, it dents the image of Chinese people in other countries,' Song said.

He said the ministry had handled an average of 30,000 cases involving consular assistance to Chinese nationals annually in recent years, as the number of Chinese going abroad increased from 280,000 between 1949 and 1979 to 45.8 million last year.

To address the issue, the ministry in 2007 issued two booklets - one on safety and the other on proper behaviour - to mainland residents travelling and living abroad. The advice includes keeping away from strangers, not yelling in public and avoiding standing out in the crowd.

The ministry so far has distributed a million copies of the two booklets. From July to this month it ran a global campaign to raise safety awareness among Chinese nationals.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also set up a centre to protect mainlanders abroad. Xinhua said the centre was needed because the number of cases requiring consular assistance had risen in recent years.

Friction between Chinese workers and local communities have also become more commonplace.

The reputation of Chinese businesspeople has been tainted with conflict over other businesses being squeezed out through cutthroat pricing and consequent increases in unemployment.

Another common complaint, especially in resource-rich Africa, is that Chinese projects do not benefit local communities.