How to protect Chinese nationals overseas
Fan Jinghui, the Chinese national held hostage by the Islamic State group, was murdered on Nov 19. A day later, gunmen attacked the Radisson BluHotel in Bamako, capital ofMali, took hostages and killed more than 20 people, three of whom were Chinese nationals.
Terrorism is not newto Chinese people, only that until recently most of the terrorist attacks were carried out by the Eastern Turkistan IslamicMovement within the country. But the two recent cases show that Chinese nationals face serious threats even while traveling or working overseas, and measures have to be taken to ensure their safety.
The number of Chinese nationals going abroad for business, studies or travel has been continuously growing. Last year, Chinese people made more than 100 million trips overseas, and an increasing number of Chinese enterprises have been “going global” or engaging in overseas ventures in recent years. These have increased the possibility of attacks on Chinese nationals overseas, too.
So, how to protect Chinese nationals and enterprises overseas will be a major problem for China.
It should be noted that most of the overseas attacks targeting Chinese nationals have been economic crimes; they didn’t have anything to do with political rivalry with or anger against China. For example, the IS’ original purpose of taking Fan hostage was to get a fat ransom. But seen differently, it was a kind of political provocation because it challenged the Chinese government’s obligation to protect its citizens traveling abroad.
The target of the militant group that claimed to have planned the attack in Bamako might have been the local peace-building process and/orWestern countries that still exercise influence in Mali. But the fact that its activists indiscriminately killed people makes the group an enemy to all, including China. Besides, the killings highlight the fragile security situation in the country which could hinder Chinese railway projects inWest Africa.
Hence, China has no choice but to defend its overseas interests and protect its nationals traveling or working abroad by taking stricter measures.
The question is: What measures will China actually take? Launching military attacks against terrorist groups asWestern powers do can never be a wise choice for China, because terrorism has complicated local origins and mass unilateral military intervention often fails to root it out. Also, the powers that have launched direct military attacks against terrorist groups in countries in the Middle East andNorth Africa, and Afghanistan have got caught in local political conflicts.
Therefore, China should provide support to international coalitions targeting the IS, as well as rely more on local governments to combat terrorism, as in the case of Mali.
But China’s security departments must realize the importance of protecting Chinese citizens and enterprises overseas. This is a newtask and they need to put in more efforts to compensate for lack of experience. In other words, China needs to participate in global anti-terrorism campaign in a smartway by coordinating with the international community.
The author is an associate professor at the School of International Studies, Nanjing University.