China’s venturing into developing countries around the globe has always been associated with its well known tactics like debt trap, shifting of hazardous industries, unfair trade and dumping, etc. However, some significant aspects of growing Chinese dominance have not attracted much attention internationally.
These include the strategy and business practices employed by the Chinese firms while operating in alien lands. However, the practices deserve more scrutiny because of their possible long term impact on the cultural landscape of host countries. A peculiar feature of Chinese companies working in African countries is their insistence on using security apparatus and human resource from China. This constitutes the placement of personnel and security equipment on various construction or other project sites from Chinese agencies only. According to some estimates, the rapid growth of Chinese operations has led to deployment of about a million Chinese nationals with more than ten thousand Chinese companies in Africa. Only Chinese security companies are entrusted with the safety of these assets and nationals while also securing the sea routes. The practice seems to have its ideological roots in colonial era when companies used to support private armies to deploy in their colonies. Beijing’s justification for the massive usage of Chinese security setup hinges on its large infrastructure projects in Africa. Apart from infrastructure, the country has sizeable stakes in mining projects across the continent. Moreover, the growing Chinese zeal in Africa is believed to be fuelled by the vast natural resources of the continent.
The market for Chinese security services has increased significantly since the launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa. However, official backing to the practice was provided by the Chinese government in 2018 in the form of security regulations for companies working in other countries. The regulations cover the security of Chinese companies, institutions and personnel operating overseas by precisely outlining training requirements, security assessments and risk mitigation procedures. They also address procedures on data sharing and reporting on local security developments. These guidelines have provided a boost to the Chinese private security companies having operations in different African countries.
Prior to the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa, several Chinese companies operating in Africa were believed to be using armed militia. They were established to protect Chinese interests from criminal or political violence. The system has since made way for well organized and more powerful agencies working in coordination with local institutions. While most Chinese companies provide the traditional security services, many of them have acquired sophisticated capabilities of collecting intelligence and conducting surveillance against potential threats. Some of them are also even seen working closely with local institutions including armed forces. However, their rising clout and growing intervention in local problems is leading to many law and order problems in host countries. In 2018, two Chinese security contractors were arrested in Zambia for allegedly providing illegal training and supplying uniforms & military equipment to a local security company. In particular, three countries viz., Congo, Sudan and South Sudan are believed to be facing law and order issues due to the activities of Chinese agencies. The problem may also spread to other countries as many Chinese firms are trying to establish security partnerships in Mali, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Tanzania.
The exploitative attitude of Chinese companies and their engulfing of security apparatus in Africa is gradually turning the locals against by them. Majority of African citizens do not view them as independent entities but as part of the Chinese government. Security contractors seem to be promoting the China’s larger arms marketing push as they are involved in advertising and selling security equipment to local partners. The representatives of these companies or their parents/clients are often reported to be seen at international arms exhibitions alongside Chinese defense suppliers.
Though the Chinese security agencies have gained considerable influence in African countries and gained some inroads into their institutions, their acceptance among the local population is still a long draw. Their continued exploitation of local people and disregard to environment and culture of these countries are serious roadblocks in the voyage of Chinese corporations.