China opened a global calling center on Tuesday to help the record number of Chinese traveling or working overseas.
Chinese diplomats have guided or evacuated compatriots out of turmoil or criminal assaults this year in places such as South Sudan, Vietnam and Libya.
The country will “weave a full-time ‘safety net’ that spans the globe to make sure our compatriots receive timely consular protection and service from the motherland wherever they are”, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the inauguration ceremony at the ministry on Tuesday.
Officials have estimated that the number of Chinese citizens going abroad this year may exceed 100 million, the largest of any nation.
Through the 24-hour global hotline “12308”, Beijing “will be briefed in a timely manner about the suffering and demand of Chinese citizens abroad” and deliver help when they are in need, Wang said.
Li Wei, an anti-terrorism studies researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said, “The increasing complexity of security overseas has, to some extent, contributed to the boom in China’s consular assistance service”.
Following anti-China violence in Vietnam in mid-May, the Chinese government dispatched four vessels to bring more than 3,500 Chinese nationals home.
Amid rising armed conflict in Libya since July, the Foreign Ministry and the Chinese embassy there alerted Chinese citizens to leave immediately and helped evacuate more than 220 people.
Chinese foreign affairs organizations have built a mechanism that ensures contingency response, communication and coordination, and the nation has been speeding up emergency responses and improving the mobilization of national-level resources, Li said.
There are timely updates of travel alerts on the ministry’s website, and the consular affairs department has unveiled an account on the popular mobile application WeChat.
But “a huge contrast has been drawn between the limited capacity of the government and China’s expanding interests overseas”, said Wang Yizhou, a professor of international affairs at Peking University.
Chinese embassies and consulates abroad handled around 40,000 consular cases last year.
Observers warned about the lack of precautions against security and policy factors among Chinese citizens and businesses.
He Wenping, a research fellow of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said consideration should be made for security costs in the event of an accident or an incident.
Security evaluation should be put into feasibility studies of projects overseas, she said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs elaborated on the how and why of using the 12308 hotline, which is operated by the ministry’s global consular protection and service emergency calling center.
Q: What are the major functions of the 12308 hotline’s calling center?
A: The main purpose of the hotline is to handle emergencies, while regular consultations about consular services are also taken care of.
• It offers emergency management guidance and consultation for people with urgent needs, and, if necessary, it will coordinate with Chinese embassies or consulates for follow-ups.
• It provides introductions to the procedure of processing consular cases and gives suggestions.
• It serves as a special hotline in the event of a major consular case, and it conducts consultations for callers from all walks of life.
Q: What are the suggestions for dialing up the calling center?
A: After getting connected to the hotline, you can dial 0 and then 9 for direct one-on-one service in case your safety is being threatened.
• For non-emergency cases, we suggest you use the automatic voice consultations of the hotline, the website of China Consular Service and the web pages of China’s embassies and consulates.
• The key to risk management and loss control lies in prevention and precaution. Chinese citizens are advised to get a full understanding of the destination country from sources including the official WeChat account of the center and websites of Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.
• In the event of an emergency abroad, please fully use resources including local police and law enforcement to get help and minimize your loss. Please put evidence and materials in good hands. The Chinese consular staff will help you at their greatest capacity.
Q: What is on the agenda for future development of the calling center?
A: The second stage of the center’s development will focus on boosting information integration, online applications and other relevant services.
• Multimedia access (to the calling system), including WeChat and e-mail, will be introduced.
• A further integration of the website and the WeChat account will be realized.
• An online translation service will be introduced and tried for higher efficiency and improved convenience when serving Chinese citizens.