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India is not the only country coming to terms with the mounting challenge of protecting its citizens abroad. New Delhi has Beijing for company. The Indians and Chinese have, for centuries, migrated to distant corners of the world. The overseas Chinese population, estimated to be around 50 million, is nearly double that of India. If we include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Sri Lankans, the size of the subcontinental diaspora is indeed comparable with China’s. As ancient and highly populated regions, China and the Indian subcontinent have for long shaped global migration patterns. Unlike Delhi, which has had to deal with diaspora issues ever since Independence, Beijing’s problems have just begun. After the formation of revolutionary China, Beijing had to deal with issues relating to large minority populations for a brief while, especially in neighbouring Asian countries.
Given its closed socialist economy, there was little new Chinese migration after the People’s Republic was proclaimed in 1949. At least until recently. After Deng Xiaoping opened up China at the end of 1970s, there has been a steady increase in its citizens travelling abroad for study, work, business and pleasure. Chinese passport holders living abroad are estimated to number around 6 million, nearly half that of India. As three and a half decades of rapid economic growth tightens China’s integration with the world, these numbers are bound to grow faster in coming decades.
For example, the number of citizens travelling beyond China’s shores is expected to cross 100 million this year. The number of Chinese youth from the PRC studying abroad has risen from virtually nothing in the late 1970s to about half a million now. After the Chinese leadership decided in 1999 to encourage its state-owned enterprises to invest abroad under the “Go Out” policy, there has been a rapid increase in the number of Chinese workers, skilled and unskilled, working on overseas projects across the world.
THE PLA’S ROLE
As in Delhi so in Beijing, the political leadership is under tremendous pressure from public opinion to respond vigorously to foreign crises involving nationals. If it is the electronic media that pushes Delhi, the large mass of Chinese netizens quickly build up the pressure on Beijing.
In the last few years, China has sought to strengthen its mechanisms for consular protection. It has increased the number of consular officers in Beijing and its field missions. China is making an extra effort to educate migrant labour, encourage employers to register workers being taken abroad and provide timely information on potential threats to their safety and security. Evacuation of citizens trapped in civil wars, disasters or other crisies has become a new focus for China in the last few years. According to a recent study by the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research, Beijing launched 13 operations continued…