01 April 2015

Chinese Nationals Evacuate Yemen on PLA Navy Frigate

Shannon Tiezzi, “Chinese Nationals Evacuate Yemen on PLA Navy Frigate,” The Diplomat, 30 March 2015.

Amid increasing violence, China pulls over 500 citizens out of Yemen.

As the violence in Yemen worsens, with Saudi Arabia leading air strikes against Houthi forces, China has joined a number of countries in evacuating personnel from the country. China sent a PLA Navy frigate, the Weifangto Yemen to assist in evacuations. According to Xinhua449 Chinese citizens, plus six citizens of other countries, left Yemen Monday aboard the WeifangAn additional 122 Chinese citizens left on Sunday from the port of Aden, where Chinese warships were also used to help carry evacuees to safety.

According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, the navy vessels were diverted from their primary mission, conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, to conduct the evacuation. The 122 citizens who left Yemen on Sunday were taken to Djibouti, where the Chinese Embassy is helping arrange their return to China. The Chinese government “places great importance on the safety of Chinese citizens and entities in Yemen,” Hua said, noting that the evacuation operation began in earnest as the security situation “abruptly deteriorated” on Thursday. …

This evacuation is noteworthy as a rare example of the PLA Navy being used to protect Chinese citizens halfway across the globe. The first such operation came in 2011, when the PLA Navy helped evacuate some of the 35,000 Chinese citizens then living in Libya. As Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson wrote at the time:

“The deployment of Xuzhou sets a major precedent because it marked the first time China has sent military assets to a distant part of the world to protect its citizens there. This is an historical first for China, and represents Beijing’s growing capability to conduct long-range operations that it was both incapable of doing, and unwilling to do, only a decade ago.”  

For full text of the article quoted here, see Gabe Collins and Andrew S. Erickson, “Implications of China’s Military Evacuation of Citizens from Libya,” Jamestown China Brief, 11.4 (10 March 2011): 8-10.

For details on the air component of military support for China’s evacuation operations, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “The PLA Air Force’s First Overseas Operational Deployment: Analysis of China’s decision to deploy IL-76 transport aircraft to Libya,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 27 (1 March 2011).

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) 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) 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) 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) 2 (17 August 2010).