The privatization of security and the limits of non-interference

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The privatization of security and the limits of non-interference

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The privatization of security and the limits of non-interference  

Paulo Duarte, PhD – Specialist in the New Chinese Silk Route

China is unlikely to be able to guarantee the security of its energy supplies without, at the same time and in a complementary way, pursuing a securitization (ie protection) of Chinese multinationals and workers operating in areas of great instability. In this sense, China’s panoply of economic interests outside the world (including politically unstable regions) generates a set of concerns and security goals. This explains why, inevitably, there is a military dimension (along with energy and politics) that underlies the New Chinese Silk Road . This military securitization in the face of the terrorist threat was manifested, for example, in two of the foreign operations carried out by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA): to protect the Chinese merchant navy from maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa and to evacuate a large number of Chinese citizens Of Libya in 2011 (Thrall, 2015).

More recently, the inauguration of what will be China’s first foreign military base (in Djibouti) may even lead several commentators to question the widespread Chinese non-interference policy. Let us add, in turn, to the difficulties that Chinese scholars face in describing, in a precise and clear way, the Chinese policy of non-interference. To illustrate, Shinn quotes Pang as saying that “China’s goal is not to abandon or replace the principle of non-interference, but to improve its definition,” which explains why China adopts “a new approach that Combines non-interference with conditional intervention “(2015: 9). The main contribution of Shinn (2015), in his analysis of Chinese perception on the issue of non-interference, is, by way of conclusion, that it has undergone some changes [2] , becoming increasingly pragmatic.

To address the threats of instability and violence that are highly damaging to the energy, commercial and logistical securitization of Chinese interests under the New Silk Road , the possibility of deploying private Chinese military companies has sometimes been suggested by several Chinese experts, As an alternative / complementary form of military securitization (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016). It should be noted, however, that China would not be a pioneer in this regard, because countries such as the United States, among others, sometimes use private military companies to avoid officially engaging their armed forces on the ground. The Plan Colombia case is illustrative in this regard. However, the phenomenon of the privatization of war , through the use of mercenaries, private military and security companies, is far from consensual, not least because these private forces operate under a legal vacuum. On the other hand, such private forces constitute a relatively ‘efficient’ way of officially de-accountability of a particular state, which needs to protect its interests in countries undermined by insecurity (Global Research, 2015).

Regarding the alternative and / or supplement that Chinese private military companies may eventually provide for the military securitization of Chinese interests [3] , the following must be taken into account. On the one hand, Ghiselli quotes Qian Liyan [4] , while noting that “[the Chinese private military companies] are not yet ready for this role” (2016), although they aim to contribute to the logistical, energy and commercial security of the New Silk Road. : 8). But there is another major drawback in the use of private Chinese military companies: the fact that they may further increase the ‘Chinese fear syndrome’ that certain regions, such as Central Asia, have against China. This is the understanding of experts such as Arduino (2015), for whom the use of private Chinese military companies could be understood as associated with the PLA, or at least as officially approved by Beijing, causing harmful economic and political consequences to overshadow the long Short-term financial gains.

Regardless of the complex debate surrounding the use (or not) of Chinese private military companies, there is no denying the Chinese Government’s concern to securitize its interests, projects and lives abroad. At the same time, the restructuring of Chinese military thinking and military means has, in recent years, reflected a more assertive stance towards international issues (White Paper on China’s Military Strategy, 2015). If we want a concrete example in this regard, let us look at the functions of the Foreign Operations Division [5] :

“Planning military operations abroad, coordinating and organizing activities, including international peacekeeping, naval escort missions abroad, international aid, protection and evacuation of Chinese from overseas, joint military exercises … establish a Mechanism of coordination with state agencies in overseas military operations, to participate in and organize international cooperation and exchanges related to military operations abroad “(Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, para.

But how far can the pragmatic adaptation go, and the greater flexibility in the principle of non-interference, since, whether we want it or not, is it underlying it? Will the Chinese private military companies replace EPL, or are they mere auxiliaries [6] in the securitization of Chinese interests abroad? And, as or more important than the previous questions, what role for the PLA in the framework of the New Chinese Silk Road ? While recognizing the potential for possible complementarity between the PLA and Chinese private military companies, I commend Duchâtel et al (2014) [7] for whom the contours of pragmatic adaptation, the intensity of change, and the tangible results of the delinquent From the principle of non-interference, are still uncertain.

Lastly, by answering the two other questions raised above, I do not believe that Chinese private military companies will ever be able to substitute themselves for EPL (how much they may be complementary). As for the role of the PLA within the New Chinese Silk Road , I am an apologist for the middle (or moderate, facing constructivism) path of Duchâtel et al. (2014). That is, while not denying the importance of the PLA in the military securitization of energy, trade and logistics interests (among others) within the framework of the New Chinese Silk Road , I consider that the departure from the Chinese principle of non-interference will tend to take place Gradually, not abrupt or radical. By way of conclusion, I believe that the protection of energy assets abroad by the EPL seems unfeasible in the short and medium term.


Arduino, A. (2015). Security Privatization with Chinese Characteristics: the Role of Chinese Private Security Corporations in Protecting Chinese Outbound Investments and Citizens. Policy Report, June. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 17p.

Council on Foreign Relations (2016). “Beijing’s Asia Pivot in 2016”. Expert Roundup. January 5.

Duchâtel et al [Bräuner, O. & Hang, Z.] (2014). “Protecting China’s Overseas Interests: The Slow Shift Away from Non-interference”. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Policy Paper, June, No. 41, 62p.

Ghiselli, A. (2016). “China’s First Overseas Base in Djibouti, an Enabler of its Middle East Policy.” China Brief, vol. XVI, no.2, January 26, pp. 6-9.

Global Research (2015). “The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC).” August 21.

Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (2016). Defense Ministry’s regular press conference on Mar.31, http: // /TopNews/2016-03/31/content_4648198.htm

Shinn, D. (2015). “FOCAC: The Evolving China-Africa Security Relationship,” pp. 6-13. In FOCAC VI: African initiatives towards a sustainable Chinese relationship. The China Monitor. Center For Chinese Studies.

Thrall, L. (2015). “China’s Expanding African Relations: Implications for US National Security”. Published by the RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif.

White Paper on China’s Military Strategy (2015). The Information Office of the State Council. May.

[1] In a date still undetermined, at the time of writing of this monograph.

[2] In this regard, Africa has proved to be an extraordinary test of resistance to the principle of non-interference in China.

[3] In a broad sense, in all countries and / or regions that are plagued by instability and violence (the case of Africa, or Latin America, for example) where Chinese companies and workers are often exposed to dangerous situations (robberies, Abduction, murder, etc.).

[4] A security expert.

[5] The Department of Foreign Operations is established under the responsibility of the Operations Office of the General Staff Department of the Central Military Commission of China. He is responsible for the planning, preparation and execution of non-war military operations abroad.

[6] Arduino (2015) does not exclude, for example, the possibility, sometime in the future, of a preventive use of force by private Chinese security companies, an act that runs the fine line between security services and the military.

[7] The possibility of a significant political change with regard to the principle of non-interference can not be entirely ignored, as some unforeseen events could precipitate change, despite China’s foreign policy being able to remain strictly within the limits Of non-interference (Duchâtel et al, 2014). In short, everything is open, and in my view, the ‘unquestionable dogma’ of non-interference (which has ruled China’s foreign policy) is indeed already being challenged by Xi Jinping’s China. However, the intensity and speed of change will, in my opinion, be fundamentally dictated by the highly unstable international context where terrorism has no borders. Therefore, I dare to agree with Duchâtel et al (2014) , insofar as ‘unforeseen events could precipitate change’. Even because in geopolitics, and in a broad sense, in International Relations, reality is subject to a transformation not only monthly, but also weekly, and in several cases daily. The conjunctural factor is, in itself, therefore unpredictable. Proof of this is that scholars, experts, political scientists and others have repeatedly commented on their inability to predict accurately (or simply not predict) phenomena such as the collapse of the Soviet Union or the Arab Spring.

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