Security management for Chinese Operators along the Belt and Road Initiative: Achieving ‘win-wins’ for Chinese Business and partner countries

Alan Bryden, Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF)

Author Craig Martell

Security is a precondition for the success of the BRI. The DCAF-ICRC Toolkit on Addressing Security and Human Rights Challenges in Complex Environments helps companies take into account security issues within their systems, policies and processes under a prevention-based logic.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has generated massive inward investment from China into emerging economies. Major infrastructure projects under the BRI have the potential to contribute meaningfully to social and economic development while at the same time creating business opportunities for Chinese companies.

Security is a precondition for the success of the BRI. President Xi Jinping highlighted this at the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, emphasizing the opportunities for ‘win-win’ cooperation while at the same time announcing the launch of a Peace and Security Initiative to support cooperation under the BRI. This initiative acknowledges that in complex environments where governance is weak, security deficits are a major source of concern for states, companies and communities alike.

Chinese companies operating along the BRI encounter a range of security challenges that undermine company operations and reputation, the safety of personnel and the security of local communities. Common challenges include poorly trained or inadequately vetted security providers (public and private), opaque, unpredictable security arrangements with host states and tensions with local communities. However, Chinese companies are not alone in facing these challenges. 

Principles to help guide business conduct in complex environments do exist. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Chinese Due Diligence Guidelines for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights are cases in point that underline the responsibilities of companies in the area of security and human rights and provide guidelines for companies to meet to their responsibilities. However a common message from companies has been the need for practical tools that translate these principles into good practices that can be applied on the ground.

As Observers to the Voluntary Principles Initiative, DCAF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are committed to work together in order to help companies manage and mitigate security-related risks. The premise behind our work is that if a company is dealing with security incidents once they have happened then the damage is already done. The DCAF-ICRC Toolkit on Addressing Security and Human Rights Challenges in Complex Environments helps companies take into account security issues within their systems, policies and processes under a prevention-based logic. The Toolkit focuses on four areas:

  • Working with host states on security arrangements to establish predictable relations with the host government early on, as first consultations with stakeholders, if not concluded properly, can have long-term negative effects on company operations.
  • Working with public security forces to ensure that the company is able to manage its relations with public security forces in countries with high level of corruption and lack of training or vetting of public security forces.  
  • Working with private security providers to secure their operations, through underlying principles and good practices directly relevant to company compliance with international standards in their use of private security.   
  • Working with communities so that companies can adopt both a prevention and a conflict management approach to addressing some of the most common security challenges related to corporate-community engagement.

The DCAF-ICRC toolkit has been recently published in Mandarin because we see real value in this resource for Chinese companies operating abroad within the framework of the BRI. The toolkit draws on the experience of companies operating in complex environments such as the DRC, Kenya or Peru and integrates this field experience with a range of existing good practices. The guidance is not prescriptive but rather helps companies to develop (or benchmark) policies and approaches based on their own needs and the local context.

Returning to the notion of win-wins, this can be achieved by developing more inclusive business operations. What does this mean in practice for Chinese companies?

  • First, security challenges cannot and should not be addressed by the company alone. There is a need for companies, national authorities and community actors to work together. This means accepting the need for new business practices, integrating multistakeholder engagement strategies with national authorities, security providers and communities as standard business practice. It also means that relevant company personnel have the training, skills (including local language skills) and the resources to enable such engagement.
  • And second, experience needs to be shared. One of the key strengths of the Voluntary Principles Initiative lies in the space it creates for companies, governments and civil society organizations to share experience. This takes place not only during annual plenary meetings but increasingly at the country level through dedicated multistakeholder working groups. The Chinese government and industry need to play a part in such discussions both at the international and national levels. There is much to be learned from all sides through such exchanges.

DCAF and ICRC are committed to working with Chinese stakeholders. We developed the Toolkit as a freely available resource that is a ‘living document’. We therefore hope Chinese stakeholders will not only use the toolkit but provide us with feedback based on their experience and needs for further guidance and tools. This is essential for us to further develop guidance and tools that can help create win-wins for Chinese business abroad and national partners.

The Mandarin version of the DCAF-ICRC Toolkit is available at http://www.securityhumanrightshub.org/sites/default/files/publications/CN_ASHRC_TK%20III%281%29.pdf

Dr. Alan Bryden, DCAF, [email protected]