Chinese workers abducted by Sudanese rebels are still being held hostage, demonstrating the risks faced by Chinese companies working in certain overseas regions.
China's rise is accompanied by many tragic stories of unknown Chinese workers, often in remote and poor areas abroad.
The overseas expansion of previous powers was often marked by violent exploitation, with the military deeply involved and supported by the government. Today, Chinese companies, pioneers of China's cautious outbound exploration, have to seek opportunities in markets ignored by the West, and they have to do it under intense media scrutiny.
Every piece of progress China made in Africa is made possible by Chinese workers, traders and businesspeople who endure loneliness and hardship. Malaria is common in many countries in Africa, affecting a large number of Chinese workers. Out of safety concerns, activities are limited to their bases, meaning Chinese expats have to put up with a boring lifestyle for years.
To local Africans, their impressions of China are more often conveyed by Chinese workers and traders living there. They don't necessarily always bring a positive image, but they show the complexity of China. They help improve the livelihood of Africans, and create jobs for both local and Chinese companies. Their efforts explore new destinations for Chinese capital and industries, and more importantly, diversify China's energy sources.
But China is not powerful enough at this time to protect every Chinese citizen scattered around the vast continent. The domestic economy and outbound investment are stuck in the labor intensive stage. No other powers have the same number of nationals living in underdeveloped and turbulent regions as China. Ensuring their safety is a major challenge.
And today, the mission of the government is closely connected to individuals' safety and happiness. A single incident involving a Chinese citizen outside China may touch the entire country.
But many Chinese working abroad lack proper awareness of self-protection measures, such as establishing contact with Chinese embassies or overseas Chinese organizations. Some business projects have been started without adequate due diligence or profit assessments. The Chinese government needs to boost emergency response systems in its embassies and consulates. In addition, Chinese individuals and companies should be motivated to increase investment in security.
China is not an empire, and its outbound development does not constitute invasion or exploitation. The proper care shown to Chinese nationals living abroad is required by a modern country.