Protection of overseas citizens and assets proposed

Updated: 2012-03-09 07:36

By Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)

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Chinese embassies and businesses should work together to establish a database of Chinese staff abroad to better protect China's growing personnel and assets overseas, a team of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference members proposed on Thursday.

The proposal, made by the CPPCC team "overseas friendship", came after more Chinese workers and businesses suffered from major security attacks over the past weeks.

More than 18,000 companies had operations overseas, employing 1.2 million Chinese and holding assets worth a combined $1.5 trillion, by the end of last year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

"Many citizens and firms work in those dangerous countries and regions with weak security, frequent wars, rampant terrorism, and political instability," the proposal states. "There's no time to waste to establish an enhanced scheme of protection for firms and citizens abroad."

As of February, the ministry had issued 20 alerts this year to Chinese companies in West Asia, Africa and Europe.

Chinese workers were targeted twice in Africa in late January - first in Sudan, where anti-government rebels abducted 29 employees of Sinohydro Corp, and then in Egypt, where tribesmen took 25 more hostage.

Although the victims were freed with help from local armed forces in both cases, one worker was killed during the rescue mission in Sudan's South Kordofan state.

In the most recent incident, at least 300 people, including six Chinese, were killed in an arms depot blast on Sunday in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.

Apart from establishing the database, the proposal also made other key suggestions, including:

Chinese embassies should publish timely danger alerts and security information about their host nations.

Use public diplomacy to increase the image of Chinese firms and citizens abroad.

Ask Chinese firms to include ensuring security as an important part of their annual expenditure and set up an "overseas security" coordination office.

Han Fangming, deputy director of the CPPCC's foreign affairs committee, also suggested that Chinese firms evaluate their host nations' political risks before making decisions on prospective projects.

"We don't need to go to some politically high-risk regions for economic interests only," he said.

"Firms should also be requested to do risk training for their staff members. Staff without such training should not be assigned this job," Han, who drafted the proposal, said.

Han said his personal view included also having Chinese-owned security companies go abroad to protect Chinese firms and workers in dangerous regions, but it was not written in the final version of the proposal.

Admitting this is a legal issue that is not likely to be addressed in the short term, Han said Chinese firms could, instead, consider employing foreign security companies within the framework of local law.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said security companies "have no power to enforce law" overseas.

"Then how will we effectively protect our companies overseas? I think the most effective way is still working with host governments and have their security personnel and armed forces protect our people abroad."

Tan Yingzi contributed to this story.