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Chapter 5: Noncombatant Evacuation Operations Findings

China’s 2015 White Paper on national defense lists “safeguard[ing] the security of China’s overseas interests” and “perform[ing] tasks such as emergency rescue” as two of its strategic tasks (Ministry of National Defense, The People's Republic of China, 2015). These tasks indicate that the PLA is willing to expand its scope of operations so that it may protect both its citizens and investments abroad. In January 2016, China had over 50 million of its citizens living abroad, more than that of any other country. Data from 2013 indicates that over 98 million Chinese tourist traveled abroad and 20,000 of Chinese companies established operations outside of China’s borders (Yan D. , 2016). Given the fact that many Chinese investments are in undeveloped or developing nations, the potential level of risk in executing an evacuation operation is relatively high. However, in the past seven years, China has demonstrated a willingness to protect its citizens abroad from both natural and man-made threats. Examples include the 2009 evacuation of Chinese citizens from Mexico due to the threat of the H1N1 virus; the 2011 evacuation from Japan after an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident; and the 2011 evacuation from Egypt due to political instability. In 2011, China evacuated a total of 48,000 citizens from overseas territories, accounting for five times the number of Chinese citizens evacuated from foreign countries in the previous thirty years (Chase, 2015, p. 302).

While these operations relied on civilian assets to evacuate Chinese citizens, this chapter will examine three recent cases that demonstrate China’s growing confidence in the PLA to conduct noncombatant evacuation operations. First, the 2014 the Chinese evacuation from Vietnam will be explored as a baseline example of a typical Chinese evacuation not involving the PLA. Next, the well-studied 2011 Chinese evacuation of Libya will be

recounted as this was the first instance of the PLAN being used abroad to perform evacuation operations. Lastly, the PLA’s participation in the 2015 evacuations from Yemen will

demonstrate China’s growth in confidence as well as its ability to exploit the lack of U.S.

action for its political gain. Unlike the disaster relief missions discussed in the previous chapter that may require a sustained presence, noncombatant evacuation operations are designed to to be executed on a short timeline and military forces may only be present on foreign territory for just a few hours.

One important trend to consider when reading these cases is that each operation is performed in a permissive environment. Consequently, by studying these examples we are able to gain a better understanding of how China is increasingly able to project military power; however, the PLA has not yet been required to use force in order to complete an

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evacuation. Therefore, evaluating the PLA’s performance in a non-permissive scenario involving forced entry operations can only be based on speculation of its actual military skills. However, the purpose of this chapter is not to predict such performance, but rather illustrate that there is significant overlap between the skills and capabilities required to conduct NEO missions and those required of large scale war. As a result, Sino-U.S.

cooperation in this mission set is highly unlikely.

2014 Vietnam Evacuation

In May 2014, China National Offshore Oil Cooperation (CNOOC) positioned its 449-foot tall Shiyou 981 mobile drilling platform in disputed waters between China’s Hainan Island and the coast of Vietnam. The confrontation escalated into a naval dispute involving more than 160 Chinese and Vietnamese vessels, sparking nationalist fervor within Vietnam.

Local Vietnamese protests against Chinese citizens and companies intensified into riots that burned down foreign factories and specifically targeted Chinese foreigners. Two Chinese workers were killed in the riots and over 100 more were injured (Xinhua, 2014), leading China to believe that the Vietnamese government could lose control over its population. As a result, China ordered the evacuation of its citizens.

Although Vietnam disagreed with China regarding the placement of the oil rig, it attempted to suppress violence against Chinese nationals. Consequently, given the

Vietnamese government’s relative support to Chinese nationals’ safety, China did not need to deploy military forces in order to evacuate its citizens. In fact, prior to Chinese government intervention, several Chinese nationals had already evacuated Vietnam through publically available means such as commercial flights, trains, or busses. On May 14, over 700 Chinese citizens crossed into the small Cambodian town of Bavet, which is located approximately 75 kilometers west of Ho Chi Minh City. Cambodian customs officer Lieutenant Prak Vibol Chey recalled that several of the Chinese workers had arrived on foot in order to flee the violence in Vietnam (Forsyth, 2014). By Saturday, May 17, over 3,000 Chinese nationals had been evacuated (Xinhua, 2014).

On the morning of Sunday, May 18, China had organized a charter airplane to evacuate sixteen critically injured citizens. The aircraft had on-board medical facilities that was able to treat the passengers that sustained “concussion[s], soft tissue injuries, and bone fractures”. Later that day, two more aircraft operated by China Southern Airlines evacuated an additional 290 nationals to Chengdu (Xinhua, 2014) and four passenger ships launched from Haikou Port in southern Hainan Island bound for the Vietnamese port of Vung Ang.

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The first ship, Wu Zhishan, was reported arriving in port the following day at 10:18 AM (Xinhua, 2014) and although its exact departure time was not specified, Xinhua posted a story about its return to China at 2:52 PM the same day, indicating it only docked a few hours loading its 989 evacuees. The remaining three passenger ships also could transport up to 1,000 people and were required to wait in the harbor until the Wu Zhishan departed (Xinhua, 2014). By Tuesday, May 20, the last of the four passenger ships had completed the 20-hour return trip to Hainan. In total, the four ships successfully evacuated over 3,500 Chinese nationals (Mu, 2014).

Former senior fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and Vietnam expert David Koh suggests that China’s decision to send ships to evacuate its citizens “could have been an overreaction,” but also explains that “the signal could actually be for the Chinese citizens as well, to tell them that the Chinese state does care for them”

(Bloomberg News, 2014). Regardless of its actual motives, Beijing demonstrated

competency in organizing and executing an evacuation of its citizens from a foreign territory.

While this case does not directly involve the PLA, its influence on the situation should not be totally discounted. During the time of the evacuation, over 120 Chinese ships were in the immediate area of the Shiyou 981 oil rig. While most of these ships were from China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA), they were backed by PLAN warships which maintained a silent presence a few miles away, just over the horizon. Although Vietnam was not interested in escalating tensions into a combat situation, the mere presence of the PLAN likely

influenced China’s ability to send civilian ships into Vietnamese ports without diplomatic resistance.

Additionally, the organization and swiftness in which China’s aircraft and ships executed their missions seemed to demonstrate a significant improvement of the central government’s command and control capabilities from operations in the Hu Jintao administration. This event indicates that China is becoming more adept at adapting to diplomatic events in real-time, and we can expect that its improved decision-making ability will also apply to orders given to the PLA.

2011 Libya Evacuations

By the winter of 2011, the Arab Spring protests reached Libya resulting in a civil war that caused widespread instability and violence throughout the country. At the time, over 30,000 Chinese nationals resided in Libya, most of whom were employed by major Chinese energy companies. As civil war broke out, Prime Minister Colonel Muammar Gaddafi began

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brutal crackdowns, which included reports of state-sponsored atrocities and massacres. By February 2011, civil order broke down and Libya had been transformed into a war zone; thus the Chinese government decided to evacuate its citizens.

This NEO mission represented China’s largest evacuation operation since 1949 (Chase, 2015, p. 304) and successfully moved 35,860 Chinese citizens to safety (Xinhua, 2011) in only ten days. To accomplish this task, significant interagency coordination was required between the Ministries of Commerce, Foreign Affairs, Public Security along with the Civil Aviation Administration, consulates, and major companies (Collins & Erickson, Implications of China’s Military Evacuation of Citizens from Libya, 2011, p. 8). Together, these agencies were able to quickly organize civilian transportation that included 91 domestic chartered flights, 5 cargo ferries, 35 rented foreign chartered flights, 11 voyages by foreign passenger liners, and 100 bus trips (Chase, 2015, p. 304).

Although these civilian assets performed the large majority of the evacuations, both the PLAAF and PLAN made contributions to the operation, symbolizing the PLA’s growing capability to project power greater distances from Chinese territory. The PLAAF deployed 4 of its IL-76 transport aircraft that performed twelve evacuation flights in four days,

successfully airlifting 1,655 Chinese nationals from Libya to Khartoum, Sudan (Xinhua, 2011). While the evacuation flights themselves may not be that notable, the fact that the PLAAF was able to project its power all the way to Africa is significant. First, the PLAAF was able to setup an intermediate staging base in Khartoum, proving that China’s regional economic investments help it strengthen bilateral relationships within Africa. Ultimately, these growing relationships grant the PLA strategic access during a crisis, resulting in its ability to project power as never seen before. Secondly, when redeploying the aircraft, all four IL-76s flew nonstop from Khartoum to Beijing, carrying a total of 287 evacuees. These flights set PLAAF records for traveling approximately 9,500 kilometers, demonstrating growing confidence in China’s willingness employ its Air Forces assets on long distance, intercontinental flights. Lastly, these long flights overflew the airspace of five countries, indicating that Beijing is able to gain international diplomatic cooperation for non-combat related military activities and plan increasingly complex logistics movements (Xinhua, 2011).

Despite these successes, a few of the PLAAF’s limitations can be interpolated from the available data. Given the fact that it took four aircraft four days to fly twelve sorties, it appears that PLAAF lacked either the capacity or motivation to conduct surge operations.

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Because the nominal flight time from Khartoum to Libya is only 3.5 hours1, on average, only three of the four aircraft made one round trip per day. One possible reason for limiting the daily flights is that only a limited number of evacuees were able to reach the airport on a given day. However, a more plausible explanation is that the PLAAF did not deploy multiple or augmented crews for each aircraft, thus crew duty day limitations2 prevented the aircraft from flying additional sorties. Furthermore, it is likely that the PLAAF wanted to limit the risk involved in the flights by only operating in daylight conditions. Because the evacuations occurred in the winter time, only limited daylight hours were available to conduct operations.

Additionally, the PLAAF likely had significant concerns regarding aircraft maintenance.

Given the ages of the aircraft, the long distances away from their home bases, and adverse conditions presented by operating in a desert environment, the PLAAF likely wanted extra time to perform post flight inspections at the end of each trip. Each aircraft would be on the ground for more than twelve hours between trips, which would even allow some major maintenance to be performed if necessary. Admittedly, these reasons are somewhat speculative, but they do help explain why the PLAAF may have been unable or

uncomfortable having one aircraft fly multiple trips in a single day. Because senior PLAAF officers viewed this mission as “a test for the Chinese air force,” it is logical that they took a conservative approach to limit the operational risk to ensure the success of this “urgent mission” (Xinhua, 2011). This approach paid dividends because China gained international recognition for its increasing global reach as well domestic approval for its capability to protect its citizens abroad.

The Libyan evacuations also marked an important milestone for the PLAN. On February 25, the PLAN frigate Xuzhao was re-tasked from its counterpiracy mission in the Gulf of Aden to provide escort services for civilian ships carrying Chinese evacuees in the Mediterranean Sea. It arrived in the waters outside of Tripoli just four days later. The Xuzhou is a 4,000-ton warship that is not capable of carrying several people, but does carry HHQ-16 surface-to-air missiles and one helicopter. As a result, it never pulled into port and did not carry evacuees. However, analysts suggest it was utilized as a show of force to

1Flight time is based on the direct distance of 1477 nautical miles from Khartoum to Tripoli, assuming an average speed of 500 knots (3 hours), plus an additional 30 minutes for air traffic control routing, climb, and descent.

2Aircrew are limited to the number of hours they can work per day. International standards calculate this time based on when the aircrew arrives at work to the time the aircraft is secured and all flight related duties are completed. For example, USAF regulations limit aircrew to a 12-hour duty day under normal conditions. This limit may be relaxed when crews are augmented with additional pilots or under abnormal conditions such as wartime.

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prevent terrorist or irregular style attacks on ships carrying Chinese nationals. Its presence is highly significant because it is the first time the PLA has deployed a military asset whose sole purpose was to provide defensive support for Chinese evacuees. In a radio broadcast during a rendezvous with a Greek passenger ship carrying 2,200 Chinese evacuees, the captain of the Xuzhou, assured his countrymen that “The strong and prosperous motherland is with you when you are experiencing hardship” (Fu, 2011).

The deployment of the Xuzhou is significant for a number of reasons. First, China set a precedent with both the international community and its domestic audience that it is willing to deploy military forces abroad to protect its citizens. This policy is a significant departure from anything prior to 2004 (Collins & Erickson, Implications of China’s Military

Evacuation of Citizens from Libya, 2011, p. 8). Although its previous military white papers had acknowledged the need for China to acquire a capability to protect its citizens abroad, this operation shows that China is transforming its vision into reality. In the future, the international community can expect to see a greater presence of Chinese military assets in unstable regions when Chinese citizens or interests are at risk. Additionally, the deployment of the Xuzhou to the Mediterranean Sea also implies that other nations may be willing to acknowledge China’s right to protect its citizens. Based on calculations made by Gabe Collins and Andrew Erikson, the Xuzhou used approximately 2/3 of its fuel reserves

transiting from the Gulf of Aden to the coast of Libya (Missile Frigate Xuzhou Transits Suez Canal, to Arrive off Libya ~Wednesday 2 March: China’s first operational deployment to Mediterranean addresses Libya’s evolving security situation, 2011). As a result, refueling posed a potential limitation for the Xuzhou to sustain operations. Although data is

unavailable on when and where the Xuzhou refueled, it is obvious that it must have done so prior to redeploying to the Gulf of Aden. In some respects, it is not surprising that the Xuzhou received logistical support from a port in the Mediterranean, since PLAN ships have been conducting port calls in this region for the past several years. However, it is the first time that the PLAN has received in-theater support from a European country while it was conducting an on-going military operation, indicating at least tacit approval from the international community of the PLAN’s operations. These details are additional important indicators that the PLA is expanding its capability to operate far from its shores.

2015 Yemen Evacuations

Four years later, instability continued to cripple the Middle East and threaten Chinese nationals. Beginning in late 2014, the Houthis, a Shia movement from northern Yemen, led a

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rebellion against sitting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, sparking a civil war. By late January 2015, the Houthis overtook the capital of Sann’a forcing Hadi’s resignation which he later retracted upon fleeing to Saudi Arabia. By late March, the Saudi-led coalition began conducting airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthi rebels in an attempt to restore Hadi’s power; however, other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS exploited the instability and acquired territories of their own. To make matters worse, many feared that Iran was backing the Houthis movement, implying that the Yemen civil war was actually a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. By late March, the Chinese

government decided that it must take action to evacuate its citizens still remaining in Yemen.

When Saudi Arabia began conducting airstrikes on Houthis strongholds on March 26, the Chinese Foreign Ministry “activated an emergency response mechanism” (Zhang Y. , 2015) to begin preparations for the evacuation of approximately 500 of its citizens.

Preparations included coordination with its consulates; locating, communicating with, and transporting Chinese citizens residing in Yemen; and re-tasking the 19th Chinese Naval Escort Task Force, which was conducting counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Less than three days later on March 29, the guided missile frigate Linyi arrived in the port of Aden, rescuing 122 Chinese nationals and two additional foreigners from Egypt and Romania, who were employed by Chinese companies (Xinhua, China Withdrawing More Nationals from Yemen, 2015). The following day, the guided missile frigate Weifang and supply ship Weishanhu evacuated 449 Chinese nationals and six Chinese-employed foreigners from the Port of Hodeidah on the western coast of Yemen (Xinhua, China completes evacuation of its nationals from Yemen, 2015). All of the evacuees were transported to Djibouti where they utilized commercial flights to return to China. The entire operation only took 109 hours, and after completion the task force immediately resumed its counterpiracy mission in the Gulf of Aden (ChinaMil, Chinese navy resumes escort mission in Gulf of Aden, 2015).

However, as conditions deteriorated within Yemen, several nations requested

assistance in evacuating their citizens. As a result, the Linyi returned to Aden on April 2 and rescued 225 foreigners from 10 countries (Xinhua, China helps 10 countries evacuate

nationals from Yemen, 2015). The Linyi completed its final evacuation on April 6, when it evacuated 24 Chinese nationals and 45 Sri Lankans from the Port of Hodeidah (Zhang Y. , 2015). In total, the PLAN successfully evacuated 595 of its own citizens and 278 foreigners from 15 different countries.

This mission demonstrated remarkable advancements in the PLAN’s capabilities. Not only was this the first time that PLAN warships were used to physically evacuate Chinese

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nationals (in the 2011 Libyan evacuations the PLAN only provided escort services), but also the first time China evacuated foreign nationals from a war zone. Because of this mission, the China Daily proclaimed that “China has joined the elite humanitarian club of countries that are able to bring non-nationals to safety from danger zones” (Zhang Y. , 2015). Besides these “firsts,” China once again demonstrated that it could execute an accelerated planning

nationals (in the 2011 Libyan evacuations the PLAN only provided escort services), but also the first time China evacuated foreign nationals from a war zone. Because of this mission, the China Daily proclaimed that “China has joined the elite humanitarian club of countries that are able to bring non-nationals to safety from danger zones” (Zhang Y. , 2015). Besides these “firsts,” China once again demonstrated that it could execute an accelerated planning

在文檔中 人民解放軍的非戰爭軍事行動: 評估解放軍擴大任務行動及其對中美軍事關係的意函 - 政大學術集成 (頁 66-0)