BEIJING, China, Oct. 30, 2008 -- Chinese authorities are shocked and angered by the killing of their oil workers in Sudan, but they also made it clear that the incident will not deter China from investing in the oil-producing African country.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Tuesday described the incident as "one of the most serious killing cases of overseas Chinese workers in recent years."
According to China's state media, the Chinese minister condemned the "inhumane terrorist act" by kidnappers in a phone call to his Sudanese counterpart and urged the Sudanese government to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel in the country.
There was initial confusion on the number of Chinese victims. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters Tuesday that five out of nine Chinese hostages were killed Monday, but the Chinese foreign ministry later revised the figure to four hostages killed, attributing the discrepancy to reports from Sudanese authorities.
A Sudanese Foreign Ministry official later told reporters in Khartoum that three of the Chinese workers were confirmed dead and three others were injured and receiving medical care. Three more remain missing. So far, Sudanese authorities have recovered the bodies of three slain Chinese.
Chinese officials and scholars said this unfortunate episode will not adversely affect China's economic ties with Sudan or other African countries. Foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China will continue with its investments and loans to Sudan because these were "mutually beneficial."
Shu Yunguo, the director of Shanghai Normal University's Center for African Studies, told ABC News, "this kidnapping case will not have any major impact on China's policy towards Sudan or Africa."
But the death of the Chinese oil workers highlighted the human price China pays for its search for oil and raw materials in Africa and other parts of the globe to supply its new factories at home.
The nine Chinese personnel were working for China's largest oil producer, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), when they were kidnapped Oct. 18 near an oil field operated by a consortium formed by CNPC and the national oil companies of India, Malaysia and Sudan. The oil field was located in a volatile area in central Sudan where conditions have deteriorated due to intensifying rivalry for power between ethnic groups.
A report released last week by the International Crisis Group, which monitors hot spots around the globe, described this area in Sudan as containing the seeds of another Darfur-type crisis.
It was the third attack on Chinese citizens in Sudan in the past 12 months, although hostages in previous cases were more fortunate as they managed to be rescued or escape unscathed.
No group has claimed responsibility for the recent kidnapping, but the Sudanese government blamed a Darfur rebel group. For its part, the rebel group has denied any involvement in the kidnapping, although it has openly criticized China's investments in Sudan's oil industry and support for the Sudanese government.
China, now the world's second-largest consumer of oil, has become the biggest foreign investor in Sudan. It buys 64 percent of Sudan's oil production, which accounts for 70 percent of Sudan's export revenue. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, Sudan produces about 536,000 barrels a day, although other estimates put it at closer to 750,000 barrels.
Chinese state media has given prominent play to the news of the kidnapping in Sudan but it has not published any discussion, much less criticism, of the risks faced by Chinese investments in Sudan or Africa in general.
On the Chinese Internet, one blogger called for the public to reflect on the possible causes of such kidnappings but stopped short of any further analysis. Another blogger suggested the deployment of more Chinese peacekeeping troops to Sudan to protect the Chinese personnel there.
But professor Shu of Shanghai Normal University told ABC News he did not expect this incident to lead to any Chinese military deployment in Sudan. Taking a cautious position, the Chinese expert on Africa said it is still not clear which group is behind this kidnapping and whether there is any political motive. He said the Sudanese authorities will have to finish its investigation before any conclusion can be drawn.
Nevertheless, Shu pointed out that this case "is worthy of reflection. It shows the need to provide more security for Chinese workers abroad."
In the case of Sudan, he said Chinese and Sudanese officials should work together to ensure the safety of Chinese workers there, and China will have to rely on Sudanese authorities to provide the necessary security.
Regarding the view of some critics that China's relations with Sudan and other African countries are driven mainly by China's oil needs, Shu defended China's position:
"It is normal for China to explore oil in Sudan and other African countries. Our trade relationship with African countries is based on equality."