The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress in October 2022 saw Xi Jinping’s historic appointment to a third term as President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which Concentric assesses will pose a risk to Western businesses and travelers. Xi’s third term marks a culmination of years-long efforts to consolidate power and ensure the preservation of his vision, even amidst recent economic troubles and highly unpopular “zero-COVID” policies.
- Xi argued such absolute power is necessary to steer China toward “national rejuvenation,” Xi’s term for drawing on the lessons from history to bolster China’s economic, military, and societal strength.
- Xi’s policy priorities include an emphasis on national security, intensifying economic improvement, protecting the Chinese people from COVID-19, restoring order in Hong Kong, and countering Taiwan independence.
What do Xi’s policies mean for private & personal security?
Western ideals – especially American-driven values – pose an existential threat to Xi’s Marxist ideology, and Western companies and individuals are often considered immediate rivals to Chinese economic growth. Xi’s remarks at the CCP Congress reemphasized many policies geared towards “national rejuvenation” which we assess create especially unique security and economic vulnerabilities for Western companies and travelers:
- The One China Principle and Taiwan: Companies in Taiwan must worry about how to protect staff from potential military conflict and prevent a seizure of assets. Though “reunification” is part of Xi’s broad rejuvenation agenda, Xi’s speech regarding Taiwan did not mark any substantial changes to the CPP’s stance towards immediate military action. The possibility of China invading Taiwan within the next two decades would create obvious economic blowbacks, and for companies physically based in Taiwan, the threat is more immediate.
- The ramifications of the One China Principle also impact Hong Kong, Xinjiang province, Tibet, and more. Simple “guilt by association” puts companies at risk of collateral damage during moments of heightened tensions regarding these areas. During the Hong Kong protests in 2019, Starbucks stores in Hong Kong were attacked for their affiliation with a pro-mainland businesswoman. Conversely, in response to The Hague’s unfavorable ruling towards Beijing over disputed territories in the South China Sea in 2016, American companies faced multiple protests, and a Chinese citizen wearing U.S.-branded clothing was beaten on a subway.
- Economic Growth and Modernization: Part of the CCP’s tactics to advance and modernize its economy include stealing American intellectual property to make technological leaps within its own industries. The FBI and MI5 warned of efforts by the Chinese government to infiltrate American companies via cyber attacks and employees willing to share trade secrets. In one instance alone, a recruit for the Chinese government stole $1 billion worth of trade secrets from his Oklahoma employer.
- The Chinese government’s economic espionage also relies on stealing personal information, which it utilizes to develop its artificial intelligence technology. Beijing uses the information, which the government obtains by hacking credit monitoring services, health insurers, and the U.S. government, to identify and target people for additional intelligence gathering and intellectual property theft.
- National Security and Domestic Stability: The CCP’s vision of national security focuses as much on domestic stability and internal threats as it does external risks, which has given rise to a massive surveillance state. To further advance domestic stability, the CCP has used COVID-19 rhetoric, lockdowns, and restrictions to exert control and limit the movement of even those without COVID-19. The pandemic further sparked aggressive xenophobia against foreigners in China during the restrictive COVID-19 lockdowns this year, partially due to Chinese state media reports arguing the U.S. created COVID-19 and specifically targeted China.
- China’s National Security laws are another means to suppress not only domestic dissent but also criticism from abroad. Following the Hong Kong protests, the Chinese government passed laws with extraterritorial reach, meaning individuals and companies can be criminally liable for activities conducted outside of Hong Kong that allegedly endanger national security. Western companies may be especially vulnerable since trade secrets often overlap with state secrets in the eyes of the CCP. Consequently, “unlawful” provision of trade secrets can carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Espionage charges are also commonly levied against foreign citizens of nations and businesses who criticize the CCP.
How Concentric can support you
The risks associated with the CCP’s policies are unique in that individuals and companies who have never set foot in China may still be targeted. Companies with business interests in the region are at an even greater risk of a variety of security concerns. Concentric specializes in an array of holistic, tailored services that are just as unique as the risks you may be facing in China and beyond:
- Travel Support: Concentric’s Global Intelligence team produces bespoke travel risk assessments to assist trip planning, and Executive Security Agents provide high-level protection while maintaining a discreet security presence.
- Executive and Enterprise Risk Assessments: Concentric’s intelligence analysts and security professionals combine efforts to rigorously evaluate your personal or business vulnerabilities, probing for potential sources of insider threats and providing suggestions to boost your security posture.
- PII Removal and Cybersecurity Assistance: Eclipse by Concentric regularly monitors for online instances of personally identifiable information (PII) and automatically removes it. Cybersecurity experts can also assist with tabletop exercises and penetration testing to help you prepare for potential cyber-attacks.
- Consulting: Concentric’s security experts can provide creative solutions for individualized concerns, such as contingency or evacuation planning.
Regardless of your unique needs, Concentric recommends the following basic security precautions if you are visiting China:
- Use a burner phone and avoid bringing your personal devices into China.
- Use a VPN while on the internet.
- Do not post anything critical of the Chinese government while in the country.
- Stay clear of any political gatherings.
Author: Reilly Andreasen, Intelligence Analyst, Global Intelligence
Photo courtesy of the New York Times