China evacuates 225 foreign nationals from troubled Yemen

Chinese action is first time it has helped other countries evacuate citizens

A Chinese solider from the People’s Liberation Army helps non-Chinese citizens board a Chinese navy ship during an evacuation from Aden on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters/Stringer

Megha Rajagopalan and Ben Blanchard
Fri, Apr 3, 2015, 21:09
First published:Fri, Apr 3, 2015, 21:08

A Chinese naval frigate has evacuated 225 foreign citizens from strife-torn Yemen, its foreign ministry said, marking the first time that China’s military has helped other countries evacuate their people during an international crisis.

Ten nationalities were among the evacuees picked up on Thursday from Aden, Yemen’s second city, and brought to Djibouti, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on its website.

The ministry said foreign governments – Pakistan, Ethiopia, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Britain, Canada and Yemen – had requested China’s help.

A spokeswoman said it was the first time China had carried out a specific evacuation of foreign nationals from a danger zone.

A diplomatic source familiar with the operation said it was “very risky” and that fighting had come close to the Chinese warship. “The Chinese ship was in the right place at the right time.”

A spokeswoman for Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed that China had evacuated three Germans to Djibouti, adding that Berlin was “very thankful to the Chinese government for its support”.

Violence has been spreading across Yemen since last year, when Iran-backed Shia Houthi fighters seized the capital, Sanaa, and removed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. A Saudi-led coalition has hit the rebels with air strikes over the past week.

A state television report yesterday showed evacuees, who were mostly Pakistani, arriving in Djibouti.

“We are really thankful to the Chinese government, who really helped us, and took us out [with] the school children,” one woman told China Central Television.

The broadcaster showed footage of young children stepping off a Chinese warship waving Chinese flags, and in one case, kissing a seaman on the cheek.

The evacuation has bolstered China’s image at home and abroad, according to Shen Dingli, an international relations professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.

“We wouldn’t look very good if we have the capacity to help others but no heart to do it,” Shen said.

China had earlier evacuated 571 of its own nationals, along with eight foreigners who worked for Chinese companies.

Once-reclusive China has become increasingly active in disaster relief and humanitarian aid abroad as its global economic interests widen.

“China has been keen to learn from the experience of other countries on how to evacuate people, especially after Libya,” said one senior western diplomat in Beijing.

“It’s good to see China taking more of an interest in this.”

A low-key diplomatic player in the Middle East despite its reliance on oil from the region, China has voiced concern at the surge in violence in Yemen and called for a political solution.

Beijing drew praise last year when it sent troops to Ebola-hit Liberia to build a treatment centre and transport medical supplies.