Beijing has now evacuated all Chinese nationals from the chaos of Libya, 35,860 people including Taiwanese, according to the foreign ministry. What is left behind is what looks like adding up to billions of yuan in business losses not just from the cost of evacuating staff but also from damaged property and disrupted contracts.
Most if not all of the 13 state-owned companies operating in the country have had facilities looted or destroyed. The commerce ministry has said 27 Chinese construction sites and work camps had been attacked in the first days of the unrest. Having evacuated all its employees, China Railway Construction Corp. has suspended its 28 billion yuan ($4.2 billion) of contracts, as has China State Construction Engineering Corp., which has 9 billion yuan of active construction contracts in Libya, and China Gezhouba Group which has 5.5 billion yuan of housing building contracts. China National Petroleum Corp., which has services and exploration but not extraction operations in Libya and whose facilities are among those that have come under attack, has also stopped all work there.
In all, 75 Chinese companies had been operating in Libya, mostly in the energy and construction industries. They signed a reported combined $1.8 billion of new contracts last year, which will be most at risk from disruption. The commerce ministry and the agency responsible for state-owned enterprises say the are toting up the losses incurred by the SOEs. With China’s off-shore construction and natural-resources businesses giving no indication that events in Libya are diminishing their intention to work in some of the most politically volatile parts of the world, these may be regarded as no more than a necessary, if hopefully infrequent, cost of doing business there.
China National Petroleum Corp. has confirmed that its facilities in Libya have come under attack. CNPC says that it has repatriated a first group of 24 its 391 Chinese staff across its five facilities in the country. CNPC did not give details of the attacks, which are among many being reported on Chinese owned business operations in the country. As of Thursday, the company says, 47 of its staff have been evacuated.
CNPC has been working in Libya since 2002 when it won a pipeline construction contract to take oil and natural gas from a desert field 1,000 kilometers inland to the coastal terminal at Mellitah. In 2005, the company signed an offshore exploration contract with Libya’s National Oil Corporation. It also provides oilfield services and engineering and construction services to other multinational oil companies working in Libya. It is not, however, an oil producer there. (Sinopec buys 6 million barrels of crude a month from Libya, the backbone of the $6.6 billion a year in two-way trade between the countries.)
In all, Xinhua says, China has so far evacuated 4,600 of its 30,000 nationals working in Libya, mostly in energy and construction. The operation is being said to be the country’s largest overseas civilian evacuation and is being seen as a test of the competence of the government to protect its citizens abroad, tens of thousands of whom now work in politically volatile countries around the world.
The evacuation of Chinese nationals from Kyrgyzstan has been completed with a ninth flight bringing out the last of 1,299 people airlifted home, Xinhua reports. The evacuation started three days ago after ethnic violence broke out between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which has left at least 187 dead and the country facing what the Red Cross is calling “an immense” humanitarian crisis.
Many of those evacuated were businessmen and their families and construction workers in Osh, the southern Kyrgyzstan town close to the Uzbekistan border, and who come from Xinjiang. A foreign ministry official said the “vast majority” of Chinese nationals in Osh had been evacuated though some Chinese were remaining in Kyrgyzstan.
When ethnic violence broke out between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks 20 years ago, the old Soviet Union sent in troops to restore order in short order. Russia is unlikely to play a similarly firm role this time round, though it will be part of any international or CSTO peacekeeping force that goes into Kyrgyzstan. The current provisional government that ousted that of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April clearly has no control of the country. While the geopolitics are complicated by Russia’s traditional influence and the presence of a U.S. military base, there is a high probability that the interim government could collapse and Kyrgyzstan, or at least its southern part, fall into ungovernable chaos.
The most troubled area is in southwestern Kyrgyzstan where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan meet in the Ferghana Valley but, to the east, China shares a long border with southeastern Kyrgyztsan and will be regarding the prospect of a lawless state on one side of it with great concern, especially as its own side of it has Muslim minority issues of its own with Xinjiang’s Uighurs.
The chaos also underlines an aspect of China’s policy of using its money to extend its influence across the stans (and by extension curtailing that of Russia and the U.S.) by developing commercial and economic links and providing ample dollops of patronage for local politicians. It is a policy that depends on there being stability.
China has now evacuated nearly 1,000 of its nationals from Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic violence has left at least 170 dead, Xinhua reports. Seven evacuation flights have been undertaken with at least two more planned. The air lift started earlier this week. Most of the evacuees are businessmen and their families or construction workers in the southern Kyrgyz towns of Osh and Karasu. The governments of South Korea, India, and Pakistan have organized similar air lifts.
Meanwhile Beijing is offering 5 million yuan ($731 million) in humanitarian aid in the form of medicine, medical equipment, food, drinking water, blankets and tents. Red Cross officials say there are shortages of basic necessities like food, water, shelter and medicine across the Uzbek-dominated south of the country where the violence has been most extreme and we are starting to get reports of atrocities. The officials guesstimate that “tens of thousands” of Uzbeks have been displaced within Kyrgyzstan while at least 75,000 refugees have fled into Uzbekistan.