China’s evacuation strategy

By Taylor Butch

Since ‘opening up,’ China has continuously pushed for State-Owned Enterprises (SOE)s to operate in countries with less stable political environments.  This strategy, while economically beneficial, has forced Beijing to create contingency plans in order to properly protect its citizens working in these potentially dangerous and unstable political climates.  China, ever vigilant in monitoring fluid, political events involving its citizens at home and abroad, has responded accordingly.

What would a Chinese evacuation look like?

Chinese citizens queue up to board a Chinese navy vessel in Aden Harbor, Yemen, March 29, 2015.

Chinese citizens queue up to board a Chinese navy vessel in Aden Harbor, Yemen, March 29, 2015.

Three specific events provide insight into how China might efficiently and effectively evacuate its citizens from danger.  In large-scale evacuations, Beijing’s military, especially its navy, would likely play a key role.  As witnessed during the mass evacuation of over 35,000 Chinese from Libya, Beijing evacuated its citizens using a combination of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft.  Beijing had diverted these military assets from ongoing anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and along the coast of Somalia.  The PLAAF evacuated 1,655 people—including 240 Nepalese—from Libya to Sudan by flying 40 sorties.[1]

China again diverted PLAN resources in March 2015 to evacuate its citizens from a rapidly deteriorating political state in Yemen.  To assist in this affair, the Chinese naval frigate Linyi evacuated hundreds of foreign nationals.[2]  In subsequent days, Chinese state-run media reported that Beijing had evacuated in total from Yemen, 629 Chinese nationals and 279 foreigners from 15 countries.[3]  In a coordinated effort amongst Chinese defense, foreign ministry, and overseas embassies and consulates “in relevant countries,” China achieved a self-described “full success” evacuation of these individuals.[4]  Beijing certainly bolstered its international reputation by offering its humanitarian assistance and evacuating other foreign nationals.  It is likely that China would engage in similar tactics if it needed to evacuate its citizens from deteriorating circumstances.

Upon closer examination of how China evacuated its citizens working in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra in 2014, it is safe to say that smaller evacuations require strong organization, planning, and execution. The Chinese embassy in Iraq closely coordinated with its Iraqi counterparts to successfully evacuate over 1,200 Chinese workers over multiple days, according to the South China Morning Post.  It evacuated about fifty workers by helicopter from the evacuation site to Baghdad, while others were transported by bus.  One account of an evacuated person stated that the Chinese embassy, with assistance from the Iraqi military, had dispatched 20 armored vehicles to escort trapped workers.[5]  Beijing did reveal that part of the evacuation plan involved the Chinese embassy in Iraq and “relevant countries” working with their host country counterparts coordinating “convenience and security guarantees for Chinese to enter and exit borders.”[6]  In other words, part of Beijing’s contingency plan likely involved transporting its citizens across near border crossings.

China understands its role as a responsible, international actor, and it has taken on the necessary requirements to perform this role as demanded by its citizens.  Insight on how China might handle domestic evacuations is readily available, as Beijing is one of the world’s most natural disaster-ridden countries.  Last month, Beijing dispatched military personnel and first responders to an explosion at the port city of Tianjin, China.  The disaster left at least 104 dead, including 21 firefighters, as reported by Voice of America.  Military contamination specialists were also brought in to monitor the explosion site for sodium cyanide, a deadly chemical, and homes surrounding the site were evacuated.

Beijing has implemented efficient procedures to assist its citizens during crises and evacuations at home and abroad.  Chinese foreign departments, consulates, and other offices, including those of other nations, have coordinated well to safely move large and small numbers of people during fluid and dangerous situations.  Beijing recognizes the immense responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the world’s largest number of traveling citizens, and will use all of its available resources to come to its citizens’ needs.

[1] 2013 White Paper, Section IV, Supporting National Economic and Social Development, subsection “Protecting Overseas Interests,” April 16, 2013, http://www.china.org.cn/government/whitepaper/2013-04/16/content_28556911.htm.

[2]Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on March 31, 2015,” http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1250815.shtml.

[3] “China helps evacuate 279 foreign citizens from Yemen,” Xinhuanet, April 7, 2015, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-04/07/c_134130879.htm.

[4] Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on March 31, 2015,” http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1250815.shtml.

[5]Angela Meng and Laura Zhou, “1,300 Chinese workers evacuated to Baghdad from Samarra construction site,” South China Morning Post, updated June 28, 2014, http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1541558/over-50-chinese-workers-evacuated-helicopter-amid-iraq-turmoil-state.

[6]Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the State of Qatar, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s  Regular Press Conference on June 19, 2014,” http://qa.china-embassy.org/eng/fyrth/t1167110.htm.

Taylor Butch is a political risk analyst and freelance writer. He graduated from King’s College London with a Master’s in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies. He earned his Bachelor’s of Arts in History from Elizabethtown College, and has lived in or traveled to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. His work has previously appeared in Real Clear Defense and International  Policy Digest.



Categories: AT Opinion, China, Middle East

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