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“The mountains are high and the emperor is far away”  Chinese proverb

“We’re security consultants, not mercenaries.” Ryder Stahl

As long as there is man, there will be violence. As long as there is violence, there will be war.  And as long as there is war… we will always have a job.”  — Anonymous Mercenary

I will bet that I have heard no less than 25 times over the years this statement from people all around the world: “I love American people, it is your government that I can’t stand.” I usually just smile and think to myself, “they fundamentally do not understand this nation.” Over the last century, few countries other than the United States have experienced this ever-present animosity, and animosity is universally reserved for those nations that strive to dominate at a global level. China, however, is quietly usurping the USA as the country to dislike the most.

In this week’s edition of More than Meets the Eye, I want to take a look at an emerging China and see how the vitriol that many people feel toward aspiring global powers is manifesting into hard realities that the USA has been dealing with for years but are relatively new for our Eastern competitors. I will discuss several incidents that have, for the most part, escaped the mainstream media involving terrorist attacks specifically targeting Chinese interests globally. How have these attacks impacted China’s diplomatic relationships? How have the Chinese responded to them? What will the impact be to China’s chosen path in response to the destruction of its investments and the killing of its citizens? One thing will become clear: there is more than meets the eye as we will see.


What are the Chinese doing globally? How are they investing, and is there a grand strategy for their global interests? What Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated on numerous occasions is that there is a method to their global aspirations and they are not hesitant in any way to talk about what those aspirations are.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced, China is working in more than 80 countries in Central, South, and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa to construct energy, land and maritime transportation, and communications networks with and through them, ending at the European Union. At its planned fruition, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will connect 70 percent of the earth’s population and be linked to countries generating 55 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, and locales of 75 percent of global energy reserves. With the level of investment reaching perhaps as high as USD 4 trillion, the BRI is nothing less than “a Marshall Plan with Chinese characteristics” on a global scale.

What are the drawbacks to a plan of such magnitude? One drawback is that it puts a target on China that has, until quite recently, been primarily reserved for the USA and our allies. Here are the two most recent examples of violent anti-Chinese attacks. 

An attack by gunmen on two Chinese workers in Pakistan on July 28 is the latest in a string of incidents that has left Beijing reevaluating how best to protect its citizens and interests in the country, which has become strategically important as the centerpiece of its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The shooting comes on the heels of a July 14 explosion that caused a bus carrying Chinese and Pakistani personnel for a Chinese-funded dam project in northwest Pakistan to plunge into a ravine, killing nine Chinese citizens and four Pakistanis in an alleged terrorist attack. While Chinese workers and diplomats have been targeted before in Pakistan, the scope and frequency of the attacks is growing.

The most recent incident happened in the port city of Karachi, where gunmen on a motorbike opened fire on a car carrying the Chinese men, which sent them to the hospital with serious bullet wounds, RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal reported.

Here is an example of China’s possible short-term reaction:

China will not only provide the necessary support and assistance if Pakistan’s strength is insufficient, China’s missiles and special forces could also directly participate in operations to eliminate threats against Chinese nationals in Pakistan with the consent of Pakistan,” said a July 16 Global Times editorial. “We will set an example as a deterrent.”

What is China preparing for the long-term as a deterrent as well as a response to immediate threats such as those above? As Beijing’s economic footprint grows, so too do the security risks. According to data published by the RAND Corporation, a US-based, nonprofit think-tank, more than 30,000 Chinese enterprises are located overseas, and more than 125 million Chinese citizens travel abroad annually. Chinese-funded projects have begun to spark resentment from locals in parts of the world, like Pakistan, who say they have benefited little from the developments.

The anti-China sentiment is particularly strong among separatist groups in Balochistan, a western province in Pakistan. Why this resentment? As Chinese industry grows they tend to bring their own workers with them, which benefits local populations minimally. These resentments will die hard as the local populations see it as merely another form of colonialism, where rich nations come, rape their land of natural resources, and then depart, leaving little prosperity for the local population.

How will the Chinese government provide security for their civilian population abroad and provide consistent government oversight and loyalty to the State?

First, overseas Chinese Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC) are now a designated part of a newly established Belt and Road National Security Intelligence System. On the basis of a “government-led, multi-participant” method, the new intelligence system (according to the management guidelines) plans to make intelligence collection, particularly overseas, more transparent and accessible across ministries. Overseas Chinese PSCs are expected to join Chinese embassies in reporting and engaging in intelligence gathering under this new system. Funded by the Chinese government, an increasing number of academic studies on national intelligence systems in foreign countries have emerged in recent years. Few of these studies were ever publicly commissioned in the past.

Second, the Management Guidelines subject overseas Chinese PSCs to the 2009 Regulation on the Administration of Security and Guarding Services for the first time. According to the Regulation, armed Chinese private security companies are required to be at least 51 percent state-owned, thus prohibiting overseas Chinese PSCs from being a majority private enterprise.

Finally, the 2018 Guidelines have also laid out in detail the precise preventative measures Chinese companies should undertake overseas. These include ensuring clear exit routes, conducting reconnaissance around project sites, and maintaining good relations with the local government, among others. In addition, the 2018 Guidelines offer contingencies for a wide range of threat scenarios.

It is clear that China intends to pave its own highway to global economic and political dominance. However, It has little that it can use to emulate previous colonial powers or the United States. China has no real expeditionary force militarily or the ability to project its power with a large blue-water Navy as Britain did or the United States currently does. Though it is the world’s second most powerful economy globally, China still remains only a regional power politically and militarily. Because of this, China will have to resort to a distinctly Chinese way of protecting its own assets globally as well as fulfilling its political/diplomatic goals and agendas. 


How China decides to protect its overseas interests carries important implications for international politics and for the country’s own economic prospects. The size and strength of any military forces stationed abroad could affect the course of an international crisis or prospects for collaboration with the United States on shared concerns. Insight into China’s approach toward protecting overseas interests can also shed light on the economic feasibility of major BRI infrastructure investment projects in fragile states. If China lacks a reliable way to protect its interests in unstable countries, ambitious infrastructure and investment projects could suffer heavy losses or remain unrealized.

Drawing from analysis of publicly available databases and academic studies, as well as Chinese language official documents and scholarly writings, China is likely to pursue an approach distinctly different from that taken by past imperial countries and the United States. China’s approach will be characterized by an overlapping mixture of People’s Liberation Army troops, paramilitary forces, civilian contractors, and local security forces provided by nations hosting major Chinese assets. State-owned companies will likely also play an important role in providing needed ports and bases, as well as logistics and maintenance support. Many of these forces are likely to be charged with narrowly defined tasks and may cooperate with one another only sporadically, if at all.

The definitive and tell-tale sign to China’s global ambition approach is the reality that China refuses to allow Chinese companies to become foreign-owned of more than 51% of the total market cap of the company. China is on a trajectory. It will not tolerate interference of State or non-State actors into its affairs, especially into the affairs of its State-owned/Private Chinese companies. Terrorist attacks against its interests will not be tolerated and government officials are clear about what their actions will be: quick and violent. China’s energy dependence, overseas personnel, and investments abroad will grow, exposing major vulnerabilities and increasing their demand for security.


The massive expansion of Chinese global interests is a 21st-century phenomenon. Recent economic downturns in the Chinese economy indicate possible chinks in the Chinese economic armor, but the outcomes are far from decided.

The Chinese are shrewd statesmen and are keenly accustomed to playing the long game. The nuances to Chinese “limited power projection” and their desire to become a/the global power are very resilient. What people ought to be looking at is not the projection of power by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or the People’s Armed Police (PAP).

What people should be paying attention to is the presence of 10’s of thousands of armed Private Security Agents as well as armed local Security Guards that are trained by and are loyal to the Chinese government. Those numbers are increasing significantly by the day. The Private Military and Security Companies are all owned, in large part, by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and are beholden to the party line when it comes to conducting security operations.

Paying attention to the language of goodwill and common investment is a good thing. One should always be reminded that there is more than meets the eye. 

The follow-up.

What an attack on an oil tanker says about Iran…

U.S. Expands Refugee Program for Afghans Amid Rise in Violence…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “‘Full Text’ of PRC FM Wang Yi’s Speech at U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies,” webpage, February 26, 2016.

Xinhua, “29,000 Chinese Nationals Pulled Out of Libya,” China Daily, February 28, 2011.

Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley, “China Retools Its Military With a First Overseas Outpost in Djibouti,” New York Times, November 26, 2015.

 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 2016 Report to Congress, Washington, D.C., November 2016, p. 255.

Kristen Gunness and Oriana Skylar Mastro, “A Global People’s Liberation Army: Possibilities, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Asia Policy, Number 22, July 2016, pp. 131–155.

Gabe Collins, “China’s Military Gets Expeditionary,” The Diplomat, April 15, 2011.

Dudley Poston, Jr., and Juyin Helen Wong, “The Chinese Diaspora: The Current Distribution of Overseas Chinese,” The Chinese Journal of Sociology, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2016, pp. 348–373.


Chinese officials are veterans at turning catastrophes into opportunities. Since my rai·son d’ê·tre for publishing More than Meets the Eye is for all of us to learn something each week that we didn’t necessarily know, and before I am accused of practicing translational malpractice of Chinese, let me go on record as saying yes, the Chinese phrase for crisis is “Wēijī” (危机). Wēi () does, in fact, mean danger.

However, Victor Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that “in this context, Ji () represents an incipient moment; [a] crucial point (when something begins or changes). Thus, a Wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry.” It is not easily translated however as an opportunity, as many a speaker, including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Condoleeza Rice, and Al Gore, have done in past speeches.


© 2019 • More Than Meets