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China Rethinks Safety After Fatal Attack on Workers in Ethiopia


The attack this week by rebels that killed 74 people - including nine Chinese - in Ethiopia has highlighted the risks that China faces in its search for oil and other minerals in Africa. Analysts say the attack may cause China to re-think its policy in Africa, but as VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing, China's rising energy demand will mean business as usual.

Chinese officials on Thursday said they are re-evaluating the safety of Chinese nationals in Africa but said China will not withdraw investment from the continent.

Sinopec, the major Chinese state oil company that owns the operation where the workers were attacked in Ethiopia this week, on Thursday announced it is not pulling out of Ethiopia.

Rebels who say they do not want firms to exploit the region's mineral resources killed nine Chinese and 68 Ethiopians in the Tuesday assault. Seven Chinese nationals are believed to be among a number of people kidnapped and still missing.

With its energy demands skyrocketing, China has been looking more to Africa, to places that many western companies find too risky to operate in.

Economist Mao Yushi, an expert on Africa at the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing, tells VOA there is too much at stake for China to abandon its growing African investments. He says China may have underestimated the risks.

"I think the Chinese government's expectations of these risks were too low," Mao said. "These problems have happened not only in Ethiopia, but in Nigeria as well. And there are all kinds of problems in other places. The Chinese government's understanding of Africa was not quite enough."

This week's attack in Ethiopia highlights the price that China is forced to pay for finding new sources of energy to fuel its booming economy.

The assault is not the first against Chinese workers, who are being sent to Africa by the thousands. Kidnappers have seized a number of Chinese workers in Nigeria this year. In February, a Chinese engineer was killed and another Chinese national wounded in an attack on a stone materials plant in Kenya.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jinchao told reporters at a briefing Thursday that Beijing will look for ways to improve the safety of its workers on the African continent.

"In response to these recent incidents concerning the safety of Chinese personnel, the relevant departments are carrying out an assessment of safety abroad to help Chinese businesses smoothly develop economic and trade cooperation abroad and ensure the safety of Chinese personnel," Liu said.

Liu did not elaborate on what options his government would explore to enhance security for Chinese workers. He said a team of officials from the oil company and the Chinese government is in Ethiopia to investigate the attack.

The Chinese government says its policy of encouraging Chinese businesses to operate in Africa will not change.

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