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Private Security for Public Interest: chinese privatization of security across the Road and Belt corridors

Privatization of security had a great impact in the international arena; it imposed a shifting function of control and authority of force/violence from the state (public sector) to business (private sector); and developed a growing market for force where private military and security companies (PMSCs) became the main good of consumption, offering security services such as logistics, intelligence, consultancy, training, and protection – locally, regionally, or internationally. While the role of mercenaries emerged in the West around the seventeenth century, in China it amounts to less than a century.[1] [1] Recently, a growing trend is to be found in privatization related to PSCM operating abroad (like western competitors) in support of Chinese global interests.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) remains a puzzle of Chinese global interests, being a transcontinental long-term policy and investment program (multi-trillion-dollar), which aims at infrastructure development and acceleration of the economic integration of countries along 71 countries, focuses mostly on emerging markets in Asia, Eastern Africa, Eastern Europe and Middle East by different corridors.

Strategically, the BRI includes oil refineries, industrial parks, power plants, mines and fibber-optic networks designed to facilitate trade with China and invests in unpopular zones for foreign investments offering billions of dollars (mostly in loans) with fewer conditions[2] [2] to authoritarian governments, military regimes, corrupt states, and conflict zones; simultaneously, the corridor boosts Chinese economy in different sectors which had fewer opportunities in the domestic Chinese market (e.g. growth of Chinese construction companies overseas).

However, security risks to China overseas interests are on the increase[3] [3] with the role of BRI pushing the boundaries of China’s national interests abroad. “BRI’s wide geographic scope extends over remote regions where the security situation can be volatile due to political instability, social unrest, and religious extremism,[4] [4]’’ potentially putting at risk the safety of a growing number of Chinese businesses, workers, and assets[5] [5]’’. New challenges along the routes of BRI include “protecting the millions of Chinese citizens living abroad, preserving access to energy resources, and securing critical shipping lane along the possible border skirmishes, maritime incidents and possible attacks on infrastructures, etc. In such a grey area of uncertainty, the private sector is rapidly developing, providing protection to BRI projects on security-related issues like satellite navigation, disaster management and combating crime.[6] [6]

Their engagement varies throughout the corridors, “depending on contractual requirements and local government acceptance of private security companies[7] [7]’’. Along sea lines of communication, companies such as Hua Xin Zhong protect Chinese merchant vessels against pirates from the Strait of Malacca to the Somali coast. In Central Asia, Chinese PSMCs work through liaisons and local government security’s partnerships. In South Asia, the complicated security environment and the looming terrorist threats require not only cooperation with local armed forces but also more sophisticated security tools. In Southeast Asia, the need for Chinese companies to provide private security is at odds with local suspicion about China’s hidden regional interests.

In Africa, Chinese activity and capabilities vary from area to area, from mining projects led by small and medium-sized enterprises and guarded by armed militias to large SOE infrastructure projects protected by Chinese and Western contractors.’’[8] [8] Hua Xin Zhong An provides armed escort services for commercial vessels traversing the Horn of Africa[9] [9]; DeWe Security Group, currently operates in Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia and protecting the BRI project Kenya’s Nairobi-Mombasa Railway, and Chinese oil and gas investments.[10] [10] DeWe in 2017 announced a permanent construction of private security monitoring and response facilities in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.[11] [11] “China Cityguard Security Service, a leading firm, provides security to BRI projects through seventeen subsidiaries and nine partnerships with international security companies. Since the launch of BRI, Cityguard has been awarded thirteen contracts to protect infrastructure projects abroad, including in high-risk areas in Pakistan.’’[12] [12]

Generally, Chinese PSMCs provide services for the protection of the workers’ in large-scale energy and infrastructure projects, for the security of the Chinese shipping companies’ vessels and logistic hubs, and the safety of corporate officials[13] [13], through the following services: risk assessment, providing security reports in order to allow the company business feasibility study and mandatory government security assessment; risk management through monitoring the evolution of the Chinese footprint and the reaction of the local stakeholders, adapting with the daily risks and threats; risk mitigation coping with ongoing crisis, providing medical extraction for injured personnel and evacuation of Chinese nationals in cooperation with the Chinese MFA; risk transfer, supporting the insurance companies to find suitable partners to share the risk burdens; security compliance audit reports on the Chinese companies overseas offices; training security personnel and company officials.[14] [14]

Nevertheless, Chinese PSMCs find obstacles in competing with their top foreign counterparts. Therefore, cooperation with international PSMCs is a ‘necessary evil’ until the moment Chinese companies reach an adequate level to provide services for high-level operational capabilities.[15] [15] The Chinese industry of private security will need a strong evaluation over its capabilities (and strengthening them) to become more competitive on the global market to meet Chinese agenda such as the BRI. Such evaluation is required especially in the light of “an increase of violent threats to Chinese assets, blurring the line between defensive security and pre-emptive strikes’’.

 

Francesco Pagano

[1] [16] Arduino Alessandro. China’s Private Army: Protecting the New Silk Road, Palgrave Pivot, 2018, p. 51

[2] [17] Is China’s development finance a challenge to the international order?, Brooking Institute, 2017

[3] [18] The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces, State Council Information Office (PRC), 2013

[4] [19] Li Ziguo. Risks Faced by the “Belt and Road” and the “Disappointment” of Security Mechanisms), China Institute of International Studies, 2017

[5] [20] Jianguang Ma and Zhang Nan, How to Protect the Overseas Interests of Chinese Companies in the Background of the “Belt and Road”, Zhonguo jun wang,

[6] [21] MERICS, op. cit.

[7] [22] Securing the belt and road initiative: China’s Evolving Military Engagement Along the Silk Roads. Edited by Nadège Rolland, The National Bureau of Asian Research, special report 80, 2019, pg. 102

[8] [23] Securing the belt and road initiative: China’s Evolving Military Engagement Along the Silk Roads. Edited by Nadège Rolland, The National Bureau of Asian Research, special report 80, 2019, pg. 102  .

[9] [24] Christopher Spearin. China’s Private Military and Security Companies: ‘Chinese Muscle’ and the Reasons for U.S. , National Defense University Press, June 11, 2020

[10] [25] Russel Daniel, Blake H. Berger. Weaponizing the Belt and Road Initiative, Asia Policy Society Institute, 2020, pg. 16

[11] [26] Charles Clover. Chinese Private Security Companies Go Global. In: Financial Times, February 26, 2017

[12] [27] Securing the belt and road initiative: China’s Evolving Military Engagement Along the Silk Roads. Edited by Nadège Rolland, The National Bureau of Asian Research, special report 80, 2019, pg. 106 – Author’s interview with Shaun Xiao, Shanghai, July 2018

[13] [28] China’s Belt and Road Security: The Increasing Role of Insurance and Private Security Companies. In: Securing the Belt and Road Initiative Risk Assessment, Private Security and Special Insurances Along the New Wave of Chinese Outbound Investments, edited by Alessandro Arduino and Xue Gong, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pg. 12

[14] [29] Ibid.

[15] [30] 65China’s Belt and Road Security: The Increasing Role of Insurance and Private Security Companies. In: Securing the Belt and Road Initiative Risk Assessment, Private Security and Special Insurances Along the New Wave of Chinese Outbound Investments, edited by Alessandro Arduino and Xue Gong, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018: Prince, 2013  , pg. 11