Why Chinese workers are getting kidnapped abroad
Kidnapped Chinese workers were freed today in Egypt, but as more Chinese workers become easy targets abroad, citizens back home are calling for action.
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At the same time, Chinese firms often bring their own laborers to do work that Western companies would hire local employees to do, under expatriate supervision. That means Chinese companies set up camps where large numbers of Chinese workers live in close quarters, making them tempting targets for criminal gangs, guerrillas, or others who find it useful to take foreign hostages.Skip to next paragraph
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This problem is compounded by the fact that Chinese contractors often operate in remote areas, using the expertise they have gained at home in building pipelines, roads, and other infrastructure in distant and difficult locations. The nature of such projects, often spread over large and remote areas “makes insurgent attacks more likely because less protection is available,” says Barry Sautman, an expert on Chinese activities in Africa at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Nor do Chinese companies generally have the same sort of protection that Western firms operating in dangerous places receive when they hire foreign security contractors. Though some armed Chinese security men were reported to have joined the Sudanese Army this week in the search for the 29 missing road workers, China has not developed the sort of private security industry, staffed by former military men, that US firms such as Blackwater epitomize.
Instead, Chinese firms have tended to rely on local security forces, “which has not always worked out very well,” says Professor Sautman. “They are in a bind.”
There have been growing calls from the general public at home for the Chinese government to be more aggressive in protecting its citizens abroad.
The Chinese military launched a widely praised rescue mission, involving ships and planes, to evacuate 35,000 of its citizens from Libya as civil war broke out there last year. And in December, the Chinese border patrol force launched joint river patrols on the Mekong with their counterparts from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand following the murder in October of 13 Chinese crew members from two private cargo vessels plying the river.
Beijing is most unlikely to want to send its forces abroad to countries such as Sudan, however, says Shen. “We don’t know their politics or their conflicts; how could we handle them?” he asks. “We will have to buy local defense and organize in a way not to be left vulnerable. As more Chinese get hijacked and killed, we will work out a better way to defend our people.”
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