BEIJING — On June 27, after days of uncertainty and rumors, 1,260 Chinese workers who had been trapped in northern Iraq's war-torn Saladin province were finally evacuated and transferred to Baghdad.
Just like the 2011 emergency pullout of Chinese nationals from Libya and the recent evacuation of others in the anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam, this incident has once again shown how China's growing integration with the rest of the world will inevitably lead to more and more conflicts.
While just two decades ago very few Chinese traveled abroad, more than 100 million now go abroad each year. The Iraq evacuation reflects the serious challenges China will face in the coming decade to improve procedures for protecting both personal safety and property.
Except for high-risk countries such as Iraq, diplomatic efforts typically consist in dealing with incidents that fall within the purview of the general public's consular protection services, including assistance to tourists in legal disputes in popular destinations as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
China's current approach to international diplomacy can be described as "a small horse drawing a big cart," as Beijing neither invests enough resources nor possesses enough professional capability to cope with the mass of Chinese people traveling abroad.
What comes with power
In comparison to the world's major powers, China only invests a tiny portion of its GDP on foreign affairs. For instance, in 2012, China's diplomatic budget accounted for 0.0672% of its GDP whereas it is 0.3514% in the United States, 0.133% in the UK, and 0.128% in Germany.
In relative terms, China also possesses relatively few embassies and consulates. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs just more than 6,000 staff while America has 15,000.
In addition to the shortage at the diplomatic level, China's military development doesn't match the increasing foreign travel and investment. For example, even as China's marine industry has been developing rapidly, the Chinese government deploys very few military escorts. Chinese ships are thus left to rely on other countries' warships for protection, a situation befitting of a regional, not global, economic power.
It is essential that China puts more public resources into foreign affairs. Cooperation with regional and international organizations should deepen, and relevant agreements with local military and police forces will help protect its citizens and business interests overseas.
China should also provide more public goods to the world, such as contributing more annual dues to the United Nations or participating in more UN joint actions, to obtain more foreign assistance. Until now, neither Chinese leaders nor the public are even aware that the country is contributing too little to global efforts. China cannot expect the benefits of becoming a great power without taking on more responsibility.
In brief, compared with advanced countries, China still lags a long way behind in its diplomatic affairs. This is not simply a matter of foreign or military policy, nor just state business, but is inextricably linked to the future well-being of every citizen.