China security cover for citizens abroad has limits: experts
In a demonstration of its growing military power, China is increasingly willing to deploy its armed forces to protect Chinese nationals abroad, but analysts say it still lacks the capacity to mount a complex hostage rescue.
A crisis in Sudan where 29 Chinese workers are being held captive has renewed pressure on Beijing to provide security for more than 8,00,000 citizens employed overseas, particularly in resource rich but unstable nations where China has become a major investor.
Expectations that China could intervene in a distant crisis were raised last year when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) won domestic acclaim for its role in the rescue of almost 36,000 workers from Libya in the midst of that country's civil war.
After more than two decades of double-digit increases in defence spending, this was widely seen as evidence of the PLA's growing capacity to conduct complex, maritime operations far from home. Beijing's move in December to deploy armed border police on joint patrols of the Mekong River after the murder of 13 Chinese in an attack on cargo shipping was also seen as part of this trend.
However, the Chinese military would be unwilling to attempt the kind of daring rescue that US Navy Seals mounted last month in freeing an American aid worker and a Danish colleague from Somali gunmen, according to experts on the Chinese military.
"China does not have the intelligence network, political will and military capability to conduct operations of that kind of audacity," says Gary Li, a London-based intelligence and military analyst.
Beijing's military reach has also been on display since PLA navy warships in 2008 began escorting Chinese and foreign cargo ships in the Gulf of Aden.