China is relying heavily on private security contractors to protect its belt and road projects, citizens and diplomats in Africa, according to a report by a global policy think tank.
Most are Chinese private security firms that have been hired to work in a growing number of countries, mainly by state-owned enterprises to keep oil and gas installations, railways, mines and construction sites safe.
The contractors have also been recruited to protect Chinese embassies, the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy said in the report released on Thursday.
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China’s security needs in Africa have grown in recent years. According to the report, as of 2018, more than 200,000 Chinese workers had relocated to the continent in search of opportunities under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s controversial global trade and investment scheme. That took the total number of Chinese immigrants in Africa to more than 1 million.
China is also the biggest foreign investor in construction projects in Africa. As of this year, it was responsible for more such projects than France, Italy and the United States combined, according to the think tank, citing information from Chinese state media and government reports.
To protect those projects, Beijing has invested in and trained security contractors – there were about 4,000 registered security firms with an estimated 4.3 million employees, mostly demobilised military and police personnel, as of 2013, the report said. The think tank did not have an up-to-date number of security contractors hired to protect Chinese in Africa.
According to the most recent data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, state-owned enterprises generated about US$51 billion in revenue from belt and road projects in Africa in 2017 alone.
As China’s investments in Africa continue to grow, Beijing’s “non-interference” foreign policy and a reluctance to use military intervention abroad has put those expanded interests at risk, the report said.
In recent months, a number of Chinese have been killed in Africa. Three Chinese nationals died in a gun attack at a mining area in the Democratic Republic of Congo in April, state news agency Xinhua reported. The Chinese embassy had repeatedly advised citizens against travel to Ituri, where the attack happened, due to the presence of armed groups.
Two months later, three Chinese were beaten to death with iron bars at a textile warehouse in Lusaka, Zambia. The attackers also reportedly raided the Chinese-owned premises.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in South Africa in August said seven Chinese citizens had been killed in that country in the past 50 days amid a rise in violent crime.
Roy Yang, manager of the Chinese Overseas Security Group, said the Chinese companies in Africa had the biggest security needs of those operating abroad.
“More and more Chinese companies have invested in African countries, and most of the companies that have suffered losses [such as attacks and robberies] are located in Africa,” Yang said.
He said Chinese firms in Southeast Asian countries were also at risk but their security needs were largely met by local military and police.
Yang added that more training was needed for Chinese security guards heading overseas.
“Some security guards in China are basically gatekeepers or demobilised military personnel with limited understanding of the security situation in other countries,” he said. “They have a lot to learn.”
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This article China relies on private security firms to keep workers and projects safe in Africa, report says first appeared on South China Morning Post