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"Private army" patrolling China's New silk road
Material posted: Publication date: 27-08-2018
They are called "private army" of China. The growing demand from local companies involved in the implementation of the multi-billion dollar initiative "One belt, one road" (opop), led to the emergence of a large number of independent security companies.

So, in 2013 there were about 4 thousand of such firms, employing more than 4.7 million people. However, by 2017, that number had jumped to 5 thousand companies with a total staff of more than 5 million. Many of these operational employees are veterans of the people's liberation army of China, who were employed by security companies, closely associated with the project "New silk road".

"Like their Western counterparts, most private security companies in China are using former military or police officers that blurs the line between official law enforcement agencies of China and private entities in the sphere of security", – stated in the report of the leading German analytical center, Berlin Institute of Chinese studies named after Mercator, or MERICS, and the British International Institute for strategic studies (IISS).

"Beijing keeps the people's liberation army and paramilitary groups, such as the people's armed police, under the strict and exclusive control of the Communist party. However, after the legalization of private security companies in September 2009, the country quickly formed a robust domestic private sector security," says the study called "China Security Project".

The basis of this rapid growth is an ambitious initiative of the President XI Jinping opop. These super-highways of the New silk road will connect China with 68 countries with a total population of 4.4 billion people across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and they encounter a maze of infrastructure.

Widely promoted in the media, this ambitious program was a continuation of the global ambitions of Beijing and the Central part of its economic foreign policy.

"Following the expansion of infrastructure and investment projects along opop, private security companies from China and internationally to protect Chinese assets and a growing number of citizens living and working on the features along routes opop, sometimes in volatile regions, says the report, compiled by MERICS and IISS. – At least 20 such companies, the total number of staff which is 3200 people carry out their activities abroad in countries such as Iraq, Sudan and Pakistan."

However, most of these companies from a legal point of view operate in the "gray area" between Chinese and international law and the laws of the host country in which they operate.

In accordance with the laws of China and most countries in which they work, the investigators prohibited the carrying and use of weapons. For companies such as the Chinese Overseas Security Group, or COSG, this means the need for local staff training and the concentration of the main effort in logistics and planning.

A consortium of security companies COSG was created in 2016 and since then is active in Pakistan, Turkey, Mozambique, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. "After eight years, we plan to ensure the safety of the 50-60 countries, in accordance with the promotion of projects opop", – said General Director COSG John Jiang.

However, foreign employees of leading state companies in China have been repeatedly under fire in some hot spots in the world. Armed Chinese security guards assisted the Sudanese army in the rescue of personnel in the village of al-Abbasiya in southern Kordofan state in 2012.

In 2016 more than 300 workers were evacuated from South Sudan. More than a thousand Chinese employees were forced to leave the Iraqi city of Samarra two years earlier, after the government of the country entered into armed confrontation with the militants of the terrorist group DAISH.

Such sensational incidents, gave food to the multitude of rumors and speculation in the press eventually prompted Beijing to strengthen its security structures abroad.

According to the Beijing Research centre on security and defense, by 2016, China had about 3,200 employees of the security services, protect the Chinese staff of 16 thousand companies operating abroad.

"Since China has a powerful military presence in foreign countries, and most foreign governments prohibit private security companies to carry into their territories of weapons for Chinese companies operating in the field of security, it is essential to establish close ties with the local police and military bases", – said the head of the foreign Department of the company China Security & Protection Li Jiang.

One of the high-risk areas is a Sino-Pakistani economic corridor, or CPAC, worth 62 billion dollars, representing a core network of super-highways of a "New silk road".

Based on the 3000-kilometer network of roads, Railways, and pipelines, the corridor will serve, among other things, to move oil and gas from the Gwadar port on the Arabian sea in the Chinese city of Kashgar in Northwest Xinjiang province.

About 30 thousand Chinese workers are involved in various projects in Pakistan. "The route passes through CPAC infamous for its instability and insecure areas of Pakistan, the report says MERICS and IISS. – Therefore, there is a fairly significant concern, particularly in those parts of Pakistan where the Chinese workers were attacked by extremists, for example, in the capital of Balochistan Quetta and Karachi. In December 2017, Beijing has warned Chinese citizens in Pakistan that the increase in attacks on Chinese targets is probably inevitable."

Although foreign security companies allowed to work in Pakistan, companies such as China Overseas Security Group, Frontier Services Group and HuaXin ZhongAn obviously found loopholes in the laws of this country and continue to offer consulting and practical services in the field of security," the report said.

Anyway, the expansion of the independent Chinese security companies along key routes opop raises some serious questions about their accountability and transparency.

Alessandro Arduino, which is a co-Director of the International centre for security and crisis management at the Shanghai Academy of social Sciences, has traced the growth and evolution of this sector in his book "Private army: defending the New silk road".

"Remain unanswered some important questions concerning the activities of Chinese private security companies: will they receive orders from the government, and whether Beijing intends to draw up a clear code of conduct and the related algorithm of interaction with local authorities", – noted in one of the articles of the Japanese edition of the Diplomat.

Transparency isn't a very fashionable word in the corridors of Chinese power, but it will have to make this "private army" out of the shadows.


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