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Rescue highlights humanitarian role

China Daily, April 7, 2015 Adjust font size:

Pictures of foreign children waving Chinese flags and kissing Chinese sailors on the cheek as they were taken to safety on board a warship have appeared online amid global acclaim for the country's growing humanitarian role.

Observers say the unprecedented evacuation of 225 foreign nationals from Yemen highlights China's ability and commitment to carry out humanitarian missions as a major country with a strong sense of responsibility.

A diplomatic source familiar with the operation told Reuters it was "very risky", and said the fighting in the streets of Aden had moved close to the warship as the evacuees boarded.

Wu Sike, a former special envoy to the Middle East, said China's increasing national strength as well as the navy's capability and experience gave it the means to carry out such operations.

The Chinese frigate that involved in the evacuation had been taking part in anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia.

China has been sending naval escort vessels to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for a number of years, and it has dispatched its 20th task force to the region.

The navy's familiarity with the waters around the Horn of Africa and Yemen meant that the evacuation was carried out against the backdrop of a deep understanding of the region, The New York Times quoted Lyle Goldstein, an associate professor in the strategic research department of the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island, as saying. This contributed to the efficient way the operation was carried out.

Wu said the massive evacuation at a critical time required close coordination among the navy, diplomatic missions and the countries involved, and China's long-standing peaceful diplomacy meant the various parties were willing to support each other.

Jia Xiudong, a senior international affairs researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said China received help from other countries in the past. It now has a responsibility and a desire, as well as the capability, to contribute more to global disaster relief and humanitarian aid, Jia said.

"Chinese diplomacy and defense policies, even though they may be clouded by misunderstanding initially, will gradually demonstrate the nation's peaceful nature. China will gain support from most countries through such moves," said Jia.

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

China last year sent hundreds of medical workers to West Africa to help tackle the Ebola outbreak, and it built a treatment center in Liberia as well.

The Chinese military has long been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions. The country sent a 300-bed hospital ship to the Philippines in 2013 after Typhoon Haiyan claimed thousands of lives.