REPORTING FROM BEIJING --- Sudanese rebels released 29 Chinese workers, ending an 11-day hostage crisis that highlights the exposure of Chinese nationals abroad as their government expands its global reach.
Chinese state media said the hostages were handed over Tuesday to the International Red Cross after days of negotiations mediated by the agency. The workers were flown to Nairobi, Kenya, where they were staying temporarily at the Chinese Embassy.
"The 29 people are generally in sound physical condition and in stable moods," the head of the Chinese team involved in the rescue operation told the New China News Agency, China’s official news service.
The workers were seized Jan. 28 by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement while building a road in the state of South Kordofan, an area known for border disputes between Sudan and the newly independent nation of South Sudan.
One worker was shot and killed while trying to escape. His body has been handed over to the Chinese Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan's capital.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, China had 800,000 workers abroad last year, a number which has doubled since 2002. Beijing has more than $60 billion invested globally, much of it in volatile regions of Africa and the Middle East.
The kidnapping was followed by another hostage situation in Egypt, where 25 Chinese cement factory workers were held captive by Bedouin tribesmen for 15 hours.
China’s Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, was defaced on Tuesday by a group of about 50 Syrian and Libyan protesters who, angered by China’s veto of a U.N. resolution to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, pelted the building with rocks and eggs.
China’s foreign policy has long been guided by the principal of “non-interference,” or avoiding direct involvement in other countries’ internal affairs.
“The non-interference policy will never change,” said Yin Gang, a Middle East expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “But when it comes to investing in foreign countries, the government and companies will give more consideration to safety issues.”
China’s exposure abroad has become a topic of dispute on China’s Twitter-like micro-blogs, where many are calling for the Chinese government to employ its military to ensure the safety of its workers abroad.
“China’s overseas economic interests need to be protected by the military,” Shanghai-based blogger Gui Yongping wrote. “Everything is becoming globalized, and the military should adapt to these changes.”
-- Jonathan Kaiman
Photo: Unidentified Chinese workers released by Sudanese captors arrive in Khartoum. Credit: EPA / STR