More govt, corporate effort urged to protect Chinese citizens overseas
From Iraq to Libya, from the Philippines to Vietnam, China's growing commercial interests and the increasing demands of its citizens traveling abroad highlight the urgency to boost consular services, a meeting on the issue heard on Tuesday.
Diplomats and specialists at a seminar in Beijing called for greater investment and clear legislation, among other approaches, rather than solely depending on the Foreign Ministry to protect overseas Chinese.
The seminar was held against the backdrop of high-profile evacuations of Chinese citizens from places facing civil strife, including transporting nearly 4,000 people from Vietnam in May and more than 1,200 from Iraq in June.
The limited number of consular officials can hardly meet the soaring needs of overseas Chinese as global links deepen, Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said at the seminar.
People from the mainland made 98.2 million trips overseas in 2013, Liu said. More than 20,000 Chinese enterprises are operating and are present in almost every country, and more than 6.9 million Chinese workers in various fields have been sent overseas.
However, there are fewer than 500 diplomats providing consular protection in China's embassies and consulates abroad. When all those who travel overseas are taken into account, each diplomat would have to be responsible for the welfare of nearly 200,000 overseas Chinese each year.
In the United States there is one consular diplomat for every 6,000 overseas citizens, while in Japan, it is one for every 12,000.
Beijing plans to set up a global emergency 24/7 call center by the end of this year. The Foreign Ministry established a center for consular services in 2007. The first message Chinese mobile users usually receive from the center after they land in any country is a reminder of cultural differences and the embassy contact details.
Yang Mingjie, deputy chief of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said legislation should be introduced to require companies to conduct sufficient risk estimation before investing in any country and give one agency, such as the Foreign Ministry, a clear and leading role in providing a more-comprehensive range of consular services.
"One agency is far from enough to shoulder the huge task. ... Commercial insurance, consultative bodies and foreign countries' security forces can also play a bigger role," he said.
Wang Tiebin, who works for the foreign affairs section of China Petrochemical China Petrochemical Corporation, said overseas enterprises must consider shouldering more security as the surge in the number of people going overseas continues.
Around 20 percent of the State-owned company's businesses are in countries and regions with security concerns. The company has been strengthening security training for employees working abroad and hiring professionals to provide security services, he said.