THE Silk Road was an ancient trade route created by the Han Dynasty of China through Eurasia that connected the East and the West trade routes. It also stretched towards South and Southeast Asia, hence, providing cultural interaction and trade by terrestrial and maritime routes. Trade on the Silk Road played a significant role in the development of Chinese civilisation as well as its economy.
The Chinese also took great interest in the security of their trade route during that era, making sure that trade passages were secure and protected from enemy threats. Today, the One Belt, One Road initiative is China’s foreign policy and economic strategy promoting Chinese enterprises globally.
The new trade route has garnered support from the international community, with 30 world leaders attending the One Belt, One Road Forum in Beijing from May 14 to 15.
With the new policy created, President Xi Jinping pledged US$78 billion (RM333.6 billion) investments in countries along the initiative.
The risk has a focus on the financial aspects of the initiative. However, the Chinese know that security concerns will grow as the initiative evolves.
Security played a very important role at the forum. The threat of terrorism was one of the main security concerns of the Chinese government’s new policy, and the threat is shifting towards Chinese enterprises operating and taking advantage of the new policy globally.
The risk of a terrorist attack has not been calculated, and security companies are cashing in on this new opportunity. A small consortium of security providers, the Chinese Overseas Security Group (COSG), was set up last year and operates in six countries — Pakistan, Turkey, Mozambique, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand — and plans to cover 60 countries in eight years. COSG will also look into cooperation with regional security contractors to partner with.
China has focused only on addressing terrorism in China, especially in the Xinjiang region where ethnic Uyghurs have perpetrated acts of violence and terrorism on the Chinese government, such as attacking law
enforcement facilities and businesses.
Although Chinese authorities have contained the threat, the Chinese fear that Chinese enterprises outside China may become a target of terrorism.
I was in China during the forum, where the new threat dimension was seen as a prime concern of the government. Chinese enterprises operating globally and in Southeast Asia now become target to terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and other regional terrorist groups sympathising with the Uyghurs as the Uyghurs also live in Southeast Asia.
The government is trying to get information on Uyghurs living in the region and support they may have or get from international and regional terrorist groups, such as IS, al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and smaller localised groups.
The government does not have a strategy to curtail this threat. China will have to consider new policies and foster Asean support to help it address threats in the region.
Threat scenarios towards Chinese enterprises in the region are based on data gathered by the International Association of Counterterrorism and Security Professionals.
Video released by IS for Southeast Asia addresses the types of attacks to be orchestrated in the region. Attacks include suicide bombings, lone-wolf attacks, knife stabbing, kidnapping, vehicle bombs, car ramming and improvised explosive devices as well as chemical-biological materials.
The types of terrorist threats on Chinese enterprises will likely be similar to the threats in Southeast Asia, such as those done to personnel and facilities in the aviation, maritime, energy, financial, tourism and transportation-ground sectors. Trains, buses and subways, which are less fortified, are targets. The threat will range from low to high complexity, lethality of weaponry and technical execution.
Uyghurs who have joined the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terror group in China have links to al-Qaeda and have penetrated Southeast Asia in recent years and have linked themselves with regional terrorist groups based in the Sulawesi Island supporting IS.
The One Belt, One Road initiative will surely lead security experts to assess the threats already posed to Chinese enterprises operating under the initiative. Hence, the government is engaging with security think tanks and government security agencies to assist it in tackling the evolving nature of threats regionally as well as globally.
The writer, Andrin Raj, a national security and counterterrorism expert, is Southeast Asia Regional director for the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals-Centre for Security Studies