Safety worries mount for Chinese traveling abroad

Updated: 2013-07-24 08:11


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"Generally speaking, the world is a peaceful place. However, in some parts, local conflicts, terrorism, regional wars and separatism are always present. With an increasing number of Chinese traveling abroad, it's really hard to predict which corner of the world might prove to be dangerous," he said.

"But in some regions, organizations that promote anti-Chinese sentiment are on the rise, and we need to be aware of that," he added.

Pan Wei, director of Peking University's Center for Chinese and Global Affairs, said media reports have misled the public to some extent by giving an impression that Chinese people are not safe overseas.

 "I don't think the situation is as bad as the media reports suggest. If we look at the number of Chinese going abroad every year and the crime rates in the countries where the attacks have happened, we find that the number of cases is within the normal range," he said.

"These unfortunate cases are inevitable. China's economy is becoming more integrated with the global economy, and as more people travel abroad, it's natural that various problems will arise. But we also need to be aware that similar attacks - robbery, injury and murder - also happen to people from other countries," he added.

Pan said one solution would be for people to learn more about the places they plan to visit before setting out, which might help them avoid potentially dangerous incidents. "People's limited knowledge of foreign countries, the laws, customs and religious taboos, are sometimes to blame," he said.


Safety worries mount for Chinese traveling abroad

Chinese and African men, employed by Sinohydro, a Chinese State-owned hydropower engineering and construction company, return to their dormitories at the end of the working day in the port city of Bata, Equatorial Guinea. Abdelhak Senna/AFP

Shady business

Recent attacks overseas

June 2013

A Chinese national was killed when he and a colleague, who both worked for a company called Chinese Ventures in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, were attacked by armed robbers.

May 2013

A Chinese Ventures' staff member was stabbed and killed by a local man in Algiers, the capital of Algeria.

April 2012

Two Chinese students were killed in a shooting incident close to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

January 2012

A Chinese family was attacked and robbed of $3,867 in the Italian capital, Rome, while taking a walk at around 10 pm. The father and his 9-month-old daughter were shot dead at the scene. The mother was injured.

October 2011

Thirteen Chinese nationals were killed when two Chinese-registered ships were seized by drug traffickers on the Mekong River in an area close to the Golden Triangle. Most of the victims were bound and blindfolded before they were shot. Naw Kham, the leader of the gang, was sentenced to death on Nov 6 and was later executed.

August 2010

Eight tourists from Hong Kong were killed in Manila, Philippines, when a former police officer armed with an assault rifle seized a tourist bus carrying 25 passengers, including 22 tourists from Hong Kong.

May, 2009

A 23-year-old female Chinese student was raped and murdered in downtown New York.

October 2008

Nine workers from China National Petroleum Corp were kidnapped by anti-government militants in Sudan. Five were killed, but the other four were rescued.


Meanwhile, companies or people who engage in shady business overseas are playing an extremely high-risk game, according to Pan, referring to a series of incidents centered around the eviction of Chinese gold miners from the African country of Ghana.

Hundreds of miners, mostly from South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, were hunted down by local tribesmen enraged by their illegal gold mining activity, and now face deportation.

"If you choose to make money by illegal means, you need to be prepared to pay the price if anything happens," Pan said.

Li Wei, director of the Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said there's not enough evidence to prove that Chinese are specifically targeted by criminals or terrorists, and most of the reported cases have been isolated incidents.

"But so many Chinese travel overseas that it's very difficult to ensure the safety of each and every person," he said.

However, Li admitted that criminals often regard Chinese as "low-cost" victims because of a perception that they will surrender their valuables and cash rather than fight back.

"Chinese people must learn to fight for their rights and report these incidents to the police," he said.

Li said northern European countries, many of which have been hit hard by the sovereign debt crisis and high rates of unemployment, have seen a rising number of crimes.

Meanwhile, in many areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America conflicts between tribes and ethnic groups are usually the main cause of instability. Many Chinese companies overseas are being offered a higher level of protection as governments seek to attract a greater volume of inward investment. The companies are also boosting their own internal security measures.

Li Jun, who works at a branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Indonesia, said the staff attend security meetings almost every week and adhere to strict safety disciplines.

"To guarantee our safety, we are not allowed to walk around without the company of local colleagues. In addition, we often attend safety classes arranged by the local police, where we are taught tactics to use in emergency situations."

Safety precautions

"When under attack, tears are not enough to save lives," said Peking University's Xia.

"The central government should formulate a mechanism, including prevention, rescue and relief measures, to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals overseas," he said.

China's economic rise has seen a marked improvement in the country's international standing and, in many cases, diplomatic channels have played a key role in protecting the rights of Chinese citizens in foreign countries.

Song Ronghua, a visiting professor of international relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, called on the government to improve consular protection by increasing investment in training to provide the staff with greater understanding of the law, finance, and economics.

According to anti-terrorism expert Li Wei, governments use tourist warnings as the primary means of keeping their nationals safe, but he urged tourists and businesspeople to maintain regular contact with the local police and Chinese embassies and consulates.

Wang Yuan, first secretary of the consular office at the Chinese Embassy in France, said the security situation in the country has deteriorated in recent years and the embassy has forged a close working relationship with the gendarmerie. "They exchange information with us and inform us about the progress of cases involving Chinese nationals," he said.

Wang suggested that well-off Chinese in France should avoid ostentatious displays of wealth and not carry large amounts of cash or top-end clothing, watches, bags or jewelry.

District Attorney George Gascn said the Chinese form one of San Francisco's largest immigrant communities, but many new immigrants have language and culture barriers. They need to improve their understanding of the US legal system and services, he said.

Li Chunfu, from the Consulate-General of China in San Francisco, said, "We have called on local Chinese to improve their awareness of security and watch out for their neighbors. We have also encouraged them to seek help from us should any unpleasant or dangerous situations arise."

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