Yemen evacuation provokes debate over protection offered by Chinese passport

By Liu Yan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-4-10 0:28:01

The situation in Yemen is turning messy as the air strikes continue. Meanwhile, the debate among netizens over the Chinese government's ability to evacuate its nationals living in chaotic foreign countries persists.

As of early April, Chinese two frigates have successfully evacuated some 600 nationals out of Yemen. Overseas evacuation tests a country's emergency-response system which requires a comprehensive national strength. In the past, Chinese nationals being humiliated, bullied and attacked on foreign soil has left a collective psychological scar.

While the swift evacuation was carried out in the war-torn country, inevitably the government response of China and the US has been put under close scrutiny. The US is not evacuating its citizens from Yemen, having shuttered its embassy in February, although a US citizen trying to bring his family back to US was stuck in Yemen and killed in a blast in March.

The regular escort service performed by Chinese naval fleets in the Gulf of Aden made the timely evacuation in Yemen possible. China already accumulated experience in the 2011 Libyan crisis where over 35,000 Chinese nationals were evacuated. With more Chinese facilities worldwide, rescue efforts can be easier at time of emergency.

The government's effectiveness in overseas rescue efforts and aid deployment has been increasingly seen as part of a race by the public. When Typhoon Haiyan struck Philippines in November 2013, causing a devastating calamity, the humanitarian aid offered by various countries stirred controversy. Washington sent the aircraft carrier George Washington, with sweeping media exposure, to shore up allies' confidence in its commitment to the region. China's rescue package however was criticized as "meager" and didn't match its economic power.

Yemen evacuation also stirred an old question among Chinese netizens as what passport is worth most when it comes to protect overseas nationals. There is a widely circulated piece of humor online on the misperception of benefits that some Chinese believe foreign countries can offer. Listed first is the powerful US passport that some believe can provide omnipresent protection to its holders. Other misperceptions include that free apartments are available in Russia and that sewer systems built by Germans never fail.

Netizens even falsified one sentence as an instruction on US passport that "wherever you go, the US government and military will support you forever." Though it has been refuted as untrue, the belief has persistently stayed as some netizens argue that the US government's attitude in protecting overseas nationals matters most.

In addition to emergency response, it is very challenging for any government to provide regular safety assurances to its nationals in foreign soil. In this regard, the Chinese government is catching up quickly to meet public demands.

Comprehensive factors have to be considered when government carries out overseas evacuation and rescue efforts, such as civil and military facilities availability, as well as geopolitical implications the plan may incur. A simple comparison may not be realistic. However in public opinion, it is taken as symbol of a country's national strength. As China's overseas presence expands, and competition between China and the US intensifies in some areas, such comparison of the relative benefits of each passport may emerge again.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times.

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