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UPDATED: April 20, 2015 NO. 17 APRIL 23, 2015
Operation Evacuation
Chinese navy vessels extricate citizens from the Yemen crisis
By An Gang

HELLO, THANKS: Foreign nationals greet Chinese naval sailors before boarding the Chinese navy frigateLinyiin the Port of Aden in south Yemen on April 2 (PAN SIWEI)

"If I have a second opportunity to work overseas in the future, I will still take it because I believe the motherland is able to safeguard me wherever I am," said Zhu Jianping, one of the first 122 Chinese people to be evacuated from conflict- stricken Yemen, upon his arrival in Beijing on March 31.

Owing to continuous armed conflicts between Shiite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi since last July, many Chinese citizens were alarmed by the escalating situation in Yemen. However, several hundred Chinese citizens had remained in the country when Saudi-led multinational forces launched an air campaign against the Houthi rebels in Sana'a and other Yemeni cities on March 25.

The safety of Chinese citizens in Yemen has always been a concern for the Chinese Government. After the airstrikes against Houthi targets began, the League of Arab States established a no-fly zone in the territorial sky of Yemen, blocking off the air as a means of evacuation. In the meantime, an emergency sea evacuation operation in Yemen also proved difficult, as few passenger liners remained available for rent in the Gulf of Aden.

Liang Yang, a spokesman for the Chinese Navy, announced on March 29 that a Chinese escort fleet patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aden was speeding to Yemen for an evacuation mission. Later that day, the first group of 122 Chinese citizens and two foreign employees of Chinese enterprises boarded the Chinese Navy frigate Linyi in the Port of Aden in Aden, south Yemen. In the following days till April 6, the Chinese Navy carried out four operations, by which a total of 629 Chinese nationals and 279 citizens of other 15 countries were successfully picked up.

When Chinese citizens boarded the Chinese vessels, they said to navy officers that it was like coming home when they saw Chinese Navy's ships at Port of Aden.

Foreign citizens who were onboard Chinese ships also expressed admiration for the Chinese Navy. "After receiving our request, Chinese diplomats immediately contacted us and treated us in the same way as Chinese citizens," said Usaca Perera, a Sri Lankan in Yemen who served as the liaison person coordinating the evacuation of more than 40 of his countrymen.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency in Sana'a on April 6, Chinese Ambassador to Yemen Tian Qi said that the Chinese Government is resolute in its desire to take action to protect its citizens abroad and will spare no efforts in humanitarian rescue.

According to Tian, China's traditional friendship with Yemen and its aid to the Arabian Peninsula country in past decades have won the respect of the Yemeni people, which was essential for the evacuation mission's success.

China has maintained close trade and economic ties with Yemen for decades. Today, the country is Yemen's largest Asian trading partner, with a large number of Chinese laborers involved in contracted projects. Chinese living in Yemen also filled the positions of medical care volunteers, athletic coaches and teachers.

At the request of Chinese diplomats, Yemeni authorities opened passes from camps of Chinese workers to Port of Aden and offered land escort vehicles for the evacuation, Tian noted.

He also said that beside Yemen, many other Arabian and North African countries attached importance to China's request. Djibouti, Ethiopia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia offered their support for the evacuation of Chinese nationals in Yemen.

The Yemen operation was the second evacuation mission that the Chinese Navy has performed abroad. In February of 2011, a civil war broke out in Libya, where around 25,800 Chinese nationals needed to be evacuated immediately. The Chinese Navy offered escort services to the evacuation ships chartered by the Chinese Government for its overseas citizens.

The evacuation from Yemen also shows that Chinese Navy's growing ability to perform overseas missions in complicated areas. In the past few years particularly, the Chinese Navy has built up rapid-reaction capabilities through participating in international escort missions in the Gulf of Aden as well as waters off the Somali coast.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review

Copyedited by Kylee McIntyre 

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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