China's Xi urges stronger rule of law overseas amid 'external risks'

New Politburo Standing Committee members in Beijing
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BEIJING (Reuters) - President Xi Jinping has called for stronger rule of law related to foreign affairs given "external risks and challenges" as China opens up to the outside world, state media reported on Tuesday.

Xi, speaking during a study session of the Communist's Party's powerful political bureau, said that to protect its overseas citizens and interests, it was necessary to deepen international cooperation on law enforcement, strengthen consular protection and assistance, and build strong rule of law.

China's private companies have run into legal challenges abroad in recent years, from U.S. accusations on counterfeit and pirated goods sold on online platforms owned by Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group, to steps to ban the TikTok video app, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, in Nepal.

Xi said in the Monday speech it was necessary to raise compliance awareness and guide the public and enterprises to abide by laws, regulations and customs in the process of "going global".

To facilitate economic and trade exchanges, authorities say Chinese law firms have set up 180 overseas offices in 35 countries and regions, an increase of nearly 50% since 2018.

China needs to actively develop foreign-related legal services and cultivate world-class arbitration institutions and law firms, Xi said.

But authorities in some Western countries, including the U.S., Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, have accused China of illegally setting up "overseas police service centres" to monitor its overseas citizens, accusations that Beijing vehemently denies.

China says such centres are meant to help its citizens renew expired driving licences, and are run by Chinese volunteers, not law enforcement officers.

The call to better protect citizens abroad coincides with recent outbreaks of conflict in countries such as Ukraine and Sudan that have led to China organising evacuations of its people.

China has organised almost 20 evacuations and dealt with more than 500,000 cases of consular protection involving millions of its people over the past decade, according to the foreign ministry.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; editing by Robert Birsel)