28 February 2011

Evan Osnos, The New Yorker: “The Chinese Navy, Zambian Copper, and Libya”

Evan Osnos, The Chinese Navy, Zambian Copper, and Libya,” Letter from China: Dispatches from Evan Osnos (Blog), The New Yorker, 28 February 2011.

…Zambia is hardly the only place that Chinese ventures have encountered security trouble in recent years. According to a tally published last August in a valuable report by the security analysts Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, of China Signpost, seven Chinese oil workers in Ethiopia were killed during an attack on Ethiopian forces guarding a Sinopec facility in April 2007; nine Chinese oil workers were taken hostage in Sudan in 2008, and five died in a rescue attempt. And four Chinese workers died during bomb blasts at a dam construction site in northern Burma’s Kachin state last April.

At least five million Chinese citizens are working around the world today, up more than forty per cent since 2005, and more than any time since the founding of the People’s Republic. Erickson and Collins predicted last August that “China’s ongoing anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden is arguably the first step in overseas military deployments to protect PRC citizens working overseas.” Sure enough, last week brought the news that China has dispatched the frigate Xuzhou from off the coast of Somalia to steam to the Libyan coast to help evacuate members of the roughly thirty thousand Chinese citizens in Libya. The move has attracted widespread attention because it was a dramatic demonstration of how the Chinese government intends to use its expanding naval power around the world. …

China is still getting accustomed to having so people working in dangerous—but profitable—places. The first time it ever faced a civilian evacuation was just eleven years ago, when a hundred and twenty Chinese citizens found themselves in the middle of ethnic tensions in the Solomon Islands. In that case, China rustled up a cargo ship and some flights, but it was a decidedly novice operation; a key part of the evacuation plan involved getting the telephone number of the local rebel chief to figure out which part of the city would be safest through which to pass. As Erickson and Collins noted last summer, “Apparently the PLAN”—the Chinese Navy—“may have been asked to send a vessel but was unable to do so.” What a difference a decade makes.

For more details on Beijing’s dispatching of the frigate Xuzhou to escort ships transporting Chinese citizens from Libya, see:

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Missile Frigate Xuzhou Transits Suez Canal, to Arrive off Libya ~Wednesday 2 March: China’s first operational deployment to Mediterranean addresses Libya’s evolving security situation,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 26 (27 February 2011).

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China Dispatches Warship to Protect Libya Evacuation Mission: Marks the PRC’s first use of frontline military assets to protect an evacuation mission,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 25 (24 February 2011).

For analysis of Beijing’s interests in Libya and the surrounding region, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Libya Looming: Key strategic implications for China of unrest in the Arab World and Iran,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 24 (22 February 2011).

For early projections regarding Chinese efforts to protect citizens overseas, see Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Looking After China’s Own: Pressure to Protect PRC Citizens Working Overseas Likely to Rise,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国),  No. 2 (17 August 2010).