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People's Daily Online>>Foreign Affairs

Beijing boosts responses in crisis zones

By Wang Yan (China Daily)

13:45, January 17, 2012

BEIJING - China evacuated around 50,000 Chinese nationals from crisis zones last year, and made substantial progress in providing precautionary consular protection services to overseas nationals, a high-ranking diplomat said on Monday.

Huang Ping, director-general of the department of consular affairs at the Foreign Ministry, called the past year "another year for evacuation of its overseas nationals".

He said China evacuated more than 47,000 Chinese nationals during operations in Egypt and Libya while under the threat of political turmoil, as well as in Japan, which suffered a massive earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis.

The total, an unprecedented figure in the history of China's consular protection, is five times the number of people that China has evacuated in the past 30 years, Xia Liping, vice-director of the department of diplomacy at China Foreign Affairs University, said last month.

"During the evacuation operation in Libya alone, we maneuvered 128 flights, chartered five cargo vessels, employed more than 20 military flights, as well as land vehicles which were used more than 1,000 times," Huang said in an online interview. "All of these were done within about a dozen days."

Huang warned that the dangers and troubles faced by Chinese citizens and enterprises are increasingly diversified, and China's consular protection faces challenges.

He said the overseas security issue can be classified into traditional and non-traditional categories. The former includes political turmoil in some countries, which may lead to military conflicts and even wars. The latter, which has increased in recent years, includes pirates and terrorist attacks, natural disasters, economic crises and less living space for Chinese nationals and enterprises due to tightened polices by some countries under the economic crisis.

Providing consular protection services to an increasing number of Chinese citizens abroad is a tough job. Statistics show that 60 million Chinese citizens went abroad in 2010, Huang said.

In October, two Chinese merchant vessels were attacked on the Mekong River near the Thai-Myanmar border, leaving 13 crewmembers dead.

Early this month, a Chinese family of three was killed in Rome, sparking a demonstration by about 10,000 Chinese living in the city.

"We handled more than 30,000 consular cases of various kinds in one year," Huang said.

A shortage of professionals in consular protection is also a problem for the ministry, Huang said.

"A US consular officer may serve 5,000 persons; in Japan, more than 10,000; in Russia, about 12,000; in Britain, 29,000 to 30,000; however a Chinese consular officer is faced with 100,000 to 120,000 persons," Huang said.

Le Yucheng, assistant foreign minister, said worldwide there are only around 600 consular officers at Chinese embassies.

Despite the difficulties, the ministry has been working hard to provide consular protection services to its nationals, especially early precautions.

Huang said the ministry last year adopted a series of measures in precautionary consular protection, which is more important than addressing incidents after they take place.

These measures include security and prevention measures by embassies to foreign countries, security education from foreign affairs offices of local governments and cooperation with enterprises and colleges to increase security awareness among employees and students, he said.

The Foreign Ministry also launched a website to provide consular services for overseas Chinese, Huang said. Other technology, including a ministry micro blog and mobile phone texting, have been added to provide contact information for people in need, he added.

The ministry will continue to establish related mechanisms this year to handle emergency cases, Huang said.

"In addition to the existing mobile texting platform with China Unicom, we hope that we can cooperate with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and let China Mobile and China Telecom participate in our foreign affairs work, and use their network to offer security information to mobile phone users," Huang said.

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