Hotline help on way for Chinese abroad

Updated: 2014-01-29 01:35

By LI XIAOKUN and ZHANG FAN (China Daily)

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24-hour global link to assist citizens mired in difficulties

A 24-hour hotline with worldwide access will be set up this year to help Chinese citizens in difficulties aboard, a Foreign Ministry official said on Tuesday.

Any Chinese citizen abroad —no matter where they are — will be able to seek consular protection and assistance from their home country if they face emergencies or difficulties, Huang Ping, director of the ministry's department of consular affairs, said at a news briefing.

The hotline number will be 12308 and international callers should first dial 0086, the code for China.

A call center, on which work started last year, will begin operating this year, Huang said. "The opening of the center will mark a milestone in improving the level of consular protection and service.

"The public are our top priority," Huang said, adding that the ministry will strive to help travelers "enjoy consular protection and service matching the status of the world's second-largest economy".

The hotline will be the first unified system aimed at helping Chinese citizens aboard.

Liu Yuqin, former Chinese ambassador to Cuba and Chile, said the hotline can greatly improve efficiency when solving problems for the fast growing numbers of Chinese overseas.

Huang said mainland residents made 98.2 million overseas visits last year, an 18 percent year-on-year increase.

More than 20,000 Chinese enterprises were operating in nearly 200 countries and regions by the end of 2013.

Huang's department and Chinese embassies and consulates around the world handled more than 42,000 consular protection cases last year.

More than 120 major cases involved the Boston Marathon bombing, the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco, and Chinese citizens pulling out of strife-ridden South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The diplomats also persuaded some 5,000 Chinese gold miners working illegally in the African nation of Ghana to leave.

Huang said his department will increase negotiating efforts with other countries this year on abolishing visa requirements. China has signed such agreements with four countries — San Marino, Seychelles, Mauritius and the Bahamas.

Huang said negotiations with Thailand on the issue have been completed and an agreement is expected to be signed this year.

Chinese ordinary-passport holders enjoy conditional visa-free treatment in six countries and regions and can also apply for visas on arrival in 35 countries and regions.

However, there have been many complaints about restricted visa-free destinations for the passport holders.

Zhu Wenqi, a law professor at Renmin University of China, said: "The Foreign Ministry should be more active in solving the problem."

Liu, the former ambassador to Cuba and Chile, said: "It takes time for countries to build mutual understanding and trust, not to mention that two governments have to consider many factors before deciding to sign a visa-free agreement.

"I believe that as China is more open and developed, more countries will be willing to offer this treatment."

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