Wang Zhipan (left) and two other workers who were rescued pose for a photo with a representative from Sinohydro Group (second from right) at the airport in Al-Obayid, the capital of North Kordorfan State Monday. Photo: GT/ Wu Wenbin
The abduction of 29 Chinese workers in the Republic of Sudan rang alarm bells over the safety of Chinese nationals overseas, as Beijing sees an investment boom in some emerging markets where the stakes could be too high, analysts say.
A total of 17 Chinese workers have been found and transferred to a safe location by the Sudanese army after their camp was attacked by rebels and one remained missing, while another 29 Chinese from the Sinohydro Group were still held by the abductors, the Chinese Embassy in Sudan said Monday.
"Sudanese officials alerted us to possible attacks by rebels on Friday. We moved out of our compound and stayed in a safe house 18 kilometers away for a day. We went back to the camp the next day, when the rebels stormed us after crossfire with the Sudan government army," Han Zhangliang, a manager of the company's camp told the Global Times Monday.
"When the rebels attacked the camp of the Chinese company near Al-Abbasiya town in South Kordofan, there were 47 Chinese workers. 29 of them were abducted and 18 fled to neighboring areas," an official at the Chinese embassy in Sudan told the Xinhua News Agency Monday.
Sinohydro made a public announcement Monday saying that search and rescue efforts for the workers were underway, without releasing more details of the road project in South Kordofan State, where the company was working for the National Highway Authority in Sudan under a $63.2 million contract.
A group belonging to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Saturday attacked a site of a Chinese company building a road in South Kordofan State which is located on the Sudan-South Sudan border and has seen armed clashes between the Sudanese army and the SPLM-N since June 2011.
Jiang Yong, a director of the Center for Economic Security Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that although some Chinese institutions provide crisis evaluation services for investment destinations, results of the evaluation do not keep pace with the fast changing situation in those unstable regions.
"We need more sufficient and detailed analysis for those regions, and should have precautionary plans in place for all kinds of emergencies," Jiang said Monday.
Sudan and South Sudan, which gained independence in July last year, are at odds over a range of issues including oil revenues, and regularly trade accusations over supporting insurgencies in each other's territories, according to Reuters.
South Kordofan is the main oil-producing state in Sudan. The SPLM is the ruling party in newly independent South Sudan, which broke off from its northern neighbor, but it denies supporting SPLM-North rebels across the border.
This is not the first time Chinese workers have been attacked by armed forces in Sudan. Nine workers from China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) were abducted in October 2008 by unidentified forces, and five of them were killed, according to the People's Daily's website.
The website also reported that two Chinese from CNPC were killed on their way to an oil well maintenance mission in 2004.
Jiang said some of those places are blighted by wars and conflicts, and admitted that most Chinese investments do not see significant gains in the near term, citing the recent case in Libya, when unrest forced tens of thousands of Chinese workers to be evacuated from the country last year in China's largest overseas evacuation operation.
Yao Guimei, a researcher with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that huge risks and interests coexist for investment in Africa.
"The security situation in Sudan is unstable. But that doesn't mean Chinese enterprises should stop their investments there. They should be fully prepared for uncertainties. That said, the Sudanese authorities should also protect Chinese workers as they are involved in infrastructure projects to improve the local livelihood," according to Yao.
By the end of 2010, China had invested around $40 billion with direct investment of about $13 billion in more than 2,000 enterprises from 50 African countries covering various sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, mining and finance, according to China's Ministry of Commerce.
China also promised to provide $10 billion in preferential loans to Africa from 2010 to 2012, according to Xinhua.
Yang Jingjie contributed to this story