The soft powers China needs to be a global force in high-risk private security
Chinese companies must offer better wages and training in foreign languages to move personnel up to the next level, insiders say
Chinese security services are being held back from expanding overseas by a lack of language skills and an inability to establish networks in local communities overseas, industry players and observers say.
Fred Wang, a senior manager from a Chinese state-owned hydropower engineering company investing in the Middle East and Africa, said these skills – rather than weapons selection – made the difference in dangerous parts of the world.
“In terms of what I have witnessed, the foreign competitors of Chinese security companies have good relations with local police, warlords, or even gangsters and terrorists. Otherwise it’s impossible for them to survive in those high-risk areas,” Wang said.
Tian Buchou, a former security manager for state firms working in Congo, Libya, Djibouti, South Sudan, said the gap was in the approach to the job.
“The problem is that many Chinese security guards just see their high-risk missions as a routine job. They refuse to learn and fail to have regular training. Some even become addicted to drugs and gamble while their foreign counterparts like Blackwater conduct tough training sessions and do specific drills once they arrived in a new mission zone,” Tian said.
Tian said Blackwater guards had a “people-first” strategy and were multilingual, allowing them to negotiate in various armed conflicts between their Chinese clients and local business partners, and government and non-government forces.
“They learned and used teamwork skills and made all kinds of life-saving measures a top priority to prevent causalities, so their people would have at most only minor injuries after completing a mission, compared with about half of the people on the Chinese teams killed or wounded,” he said.
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Cheming said some Chinese security firms preferred hiring special forces veterans from India and Pakistan because they could speak English, Arabic and even French, common languages in the Middle East and Africa.
Another big issue is pay.
A security insider said some Chinese security firms had hired veterans of the Chinese navy’s anti-piracy squad, Snow Leopard counterterrorism commandos and other former special forces personnel but had failed to hold on to the staff because of low wages.
Tian, a veteran of the People’s Liberation Army’s special forces, said foreign security companies paid their staff about 10 times the amount Chinese security personnel earned.
“Foreign security firms … will sign contracts with their bodyguards, giving them a reasonable salary and related package, while Chinese bodyguards are paid by the mission without other benefits,” he said.
“Many Chinese bodyguards feel they are not as respected as their foreign counterparts … not only in terms of a reasonable salary and benefits … but also in a lack of a practical career training and other support for future development.
“Poverty encourages people to take risks … and there are many opportunities for people who are doing high-risk jobs in war-torn countries to make dirty money.
“Only when people have the common sense to respect security personnel and recognise their real values, then China will have its international standard bodyguards.”