25 February 2011

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times: “China’s Overseas Workers in Peril”

Geoff Dyer, China’s Overseas Workers in Peril,” Financial Times Blog, 25 February 2011.

Like many other nations, China has been scrambling to put together evacuation plans for its citizens stuck in crisis-torn Libya. The real surprise has been just how many Chinese are living there. The foreign ministry does not know for sure but puts the figure at 30-40,000.

The huge contingent in Libya, who work for at least 27 Chinese companies, has brought to light one of the new dilemmas facing China as its economic interests expand.

…Beijing gave some indication of how it will respond in the future with the decision on Thursday to send the frigate Xuzhou, currently conducting anti-piracy drills off the coast of Somalia, to Libya. Its ostensible mission will be to help the evacuation effort, but it is also a warning to any in Libya who might attack Chinese interests, as well as the latest indication of the growing global reach of China’s navy.

As Andrew Erickson, a China expert at the US Naval War College says: “This latest initiative is part of a larger ongoing increase in Chinese power, presence, and influence around the world, and should come as no surprise. China has global interests, cannot free ride forever, and requires a presence in critical areas and situations in order to have a voice.”

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, “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).