A group of Chinese workers was freed yesterday, a day after being taken hostage in Egypt, while another group of workers remained captive for a fifth day in Sudan, in separate incidents that show the dangers China faces as its worldwide presence grows.
China has developed strong economic ties in volatile nations in Africa and elsewhere, in large part to meet its growing needs for energy and other raw materials. At the same time it is facing growing pressure at home to protect citizens who fall into harm’s way abroad.
Twenty-five Chinese who work at an Egyptian state-owned cement factory were grabbed on Tuesday on their way to work in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish, but were freed in good condition, Xinhua news agency reported. Their captors were Egyptians who had blocked the road outside el-Arish for days to demand the release of relatives detained for attacks in the Sinai years ago and to demand an end to natural gas sales to Israel.
In contrast to the quick resolution of the Egypt hostage-taking, the ordeal of 29 Chinese workers of dam and engineering firm Sinohydro Group has dragged on since their kidnapping by rebels in the Sudan’s South Kordofan region on Saturday.
Their plight has drawn heavy media attention in China and Beijing has sent a crisis team to Sudan, where Chinese companies have investments in oil and construction projects.
China is also pressuring Sudan, a diplomatic partner. A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official summoned the Sudanese embassy’s top diplomat on Tuesday to stress Beijing’s concern.
“The Chinese government attaches great importance to protecting overseas Chinese nationals,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng (謝杭生) was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the ministry’s Web site.
The kidnappings and Beijing’s energetic response highlight what tempting targets Chinese have become as they grow richer, and travel the world for work and for pleasure. Ensuring the safety of Chinese lives and assets has become a litmus test for the authoritarian government, which wants to prove to the public that China is powerful and respected around the world.
The public has increasingly expected an effective and at times muscular defense of Chinese rights, and social media have given vent to these expectations. In recent months, scuffles between Chinese fishermen and South Korean coastal patrols and the killing of Chinese boat crews along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia have brought calls for retaliation.
“Saved in Sudan, detained in Egypt, beaten in South Korea and murdered on the Mekong. How can this be?” race car driver Wei Daofu said yesterday in a posting on Sina Corp’s Weibo service.
Many commentators say Chinese workers are vulnerable because Chinese companies searching for energy and other natural resources are often forced to operate in volatile parts of the world because safer areas are monopolized by Western companies.