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Saturday, June 6, 2015, 10:44

How China protects nationals abroad


The issue of protecting nationals abroad is either an essential question of any legal domestic order or a central matter from an international legal perspective. The provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1996), to which the People’s Republic of China is not part of, clearly mentions the right to leave any country freely, and the right to return to his own country, as a fundamental human right, widely recognized by the international community.

The PRC has been enforcing the application of related provisions, to protect its legally hosted nationals overseas, when sovereign states suffer a major failure of domestic legal order. Indeed, every now and then, due to special circumstances either produced by a chaotic political unrest, or as a consequence of natural disasters, states legally hosting Chinese citizens are unable or unwilling to ensure the protection of their fundamental rights. Consequently, China has taken legitimate action to safeguard its nationals, within limits permitted by international law, withdrawing them from highly unsafe areas. These actions (often naval combined joint operations) are technically named as “Noncombatant Evacuation Operations” (NEO). This was the case in 2010 in relation to Haiti earthquake were 48 Chinese were withdrawn, and likewise, in 2011 during the Libyan crisis, when the Chinese government organized one of the largest overseas evacuations since the founding of the PRC, in which 35,860 Chinese nationals were brought home. In the same year 1,800 national Chinese citizens were evacuated from Egypt, and in 2014, 1,177 more were again evacuated from Libya. Recently, in the case of the Yemen conflict this year, China has successfully evacuated 571 nationals, at very short notice, under very demanding operational conditions.

Nevertheless, NEO is merely one type of the so­called crisis management operations driven by the ability of national representations abroad to evaluate the situation, and to develop contingency plans to deliver an effective protection to national citizens, in case of a major failure of hosting state protection mechanisms. Besides, other operations such as search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, and collective action in the common interest have been undertaken by the People’s Liberation Army. The examples are as follows: China has been carrying out anti­piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since 2008; China has dispatched rescue, humanitarian, and medical teams to support the relieve operations in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake (2015); China has provided naval escort in the case of Syrian chemical weapons (2014); the country has dispatched medical relief in the aftermath of one of the most violent typhoons that affected the Philippines (2013); and China has participated in the well­known Malaysian Airliner MH 370 search and rescue operations.

The recent announcement of possible negotiations on the establishment of a Chinese naval point of support overseas makes sense. Hence, Djibouti seemed to be an ideal location, due to the high number of Chinese nationals in Africa, and because of its strategic location in the banks of the Bab el Mandeb Strait in the Gulf of Aden, not far from the most sensitive piracy zone in the world.

These are unequivocal signs of a decisive improvement in terms of organization, principles of action, and capabilities within the Chinese security framework. China has been making a singular contribution to enforce international law, has been acting decisively to protect the fundamental rights of its own citizens abroad, and has been offering effective international solidarity in case of serious natural disasters, threats, and anti­piracy operations.

The author is an assistant professor at University of Saint Joseph, Macao, China.

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