Chinese PLA army soldiers in training 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/China Daily China Daily Information Corp)
The capture of Chinese construction workers by rebels in Sudan has
presented China with an opportunity to flex its muscles and show it is not shy
to use military force to protect citizens abroad.
millions of citizens abroad, the capture of some two-dozen road workers in the
Sudanese frontier seems hardly significant. But the Chinese government is taking
it very seriously and Beijing immediately dispatched a “task force” to Sudan to
“assist the rescue work,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement
Rebels in southern Sudan have taken hostage 29 Chinese workers
building a highway.
Conflicting reports said that some had been freed and
that another 18 had evaded capture but some may have been wounded in a firefight
on Saturday between government troops and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation
Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan.
The Chinese media, which are
giving the affair wide coverage, have highlighted the fast-rising superpower’s
shyness about protecting its citizens and investments abroad.
with the US’ dramatic commando raid last week to free hostages held by
pirates in nearby Somalia, the crisis puts Beijing in an uneasy
“The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our
people,” US President Barack Obama said succinctly after the raid by US Navy
China is in the midst of establishing its own version of
protecting its citizens. The rethinking of its traditional policy of
non-interference emerged last year when it dispatched military aircraft
and warships to rescue 30,000 of its citizens trapped in Libya’s civil
So, far, it has reacted to the current hostage crisis by calling on
the relevant parties “to keep calm and exercise restraint, ensure the safety of
the Chinese nationals and release them as soon as possible on the basis of
humanitarianism,” in the words of the Foreign Ministry.
But it has also
exerted enormous diplomatic pressure on Sudan to free the workers of the
state-owned Power Construction Corp. of China, affiliated with Sinohydro Corp.
In Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng summoned a senior diplomat at
Sudan's embassy to deliver the message, the official Xinhua news agency said in
a brief bulletin.
A statement from the workers’ employers, Sinohydro,
said that it and the Chinese Embassy would “spare no effort in ensuring the
personal safety of those abducted and rescuing them.”
“It is important
for them not to lose credit. Something will happen,” Mirza David, chief
executive officer of International Security Academy, which trains body guards to
work in the Arab world, told The Media Line.
“They have the forces right
there in the Gulf of Aden. Something will happen, not because they care about
their citizens, but it’s an attempt to show force,” David said.
more than 100 companies and 10,000 personnel working in both Sudan and South
Sudan, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency. Not showing concern for
their lives would not be perceived positively at home.
Further, the evacuation of
Chinese citizens out of Libya set a precedent for the Chinese government that it
will take bigger steps to rescue its citizens from harmful
The Chinese have special forces available right there in the
Gulf of Aden with its 10th naval task force with over 700 commandos aboard. They
are there performing anti-piracy patrols and ship escorts.
David of the
ISA said he has seen an increase in risk assessment by Chinese firms working
abroad. Some of his graduates have opened personal protection schools in China
where there has been surge in demand from the private sector for bodyguards, he
“Their attitude toward life is different than that in the West. The
fate of some two dozen Chinese being held hostage doesn’t move them so much. In
Somalia there are lots of Chinese who have been held by pirates but the Chinese
haven’t been so inclined to take any action there,” David said. “But now there
could be some operation because their image might be shaken.”
former Israeli commando, said this could prove to be an opportunity for China to
shine since the forces holding the hostages were likely
“An operation would probably be easy. They aren’t ‘big
cannons’ there, and a raid would likely be successful. This is a chance to show
that they are a superpower and they could do something for the image that you
shouldn’t mess with the Chinese,” David said.
China is Sudan’s major
trading partner, the largest buyer of Sudanese oil, and a key military supplier
to the regime in Khartoum.