China’s new project “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) has been discussed for some time in the U.S. The enormous project is China’s “global” proposition. It involves over 60 countries, half of the world’s population, for a turnover of billions of dollars, an investment bank owned by China, AIIB, and a fund created especially by Beijing. For China, it’s a platform available to everyone with a win-win logic, which could launch the so-called “trade route imperialism”: Beijing’s idea of globalization.
As Giorgio Grappi wrote for an issue of Limes on the relations between the U.S. and China in light of Trump’s arrival at the White House, “We can sum up the emergence of a trade route policy with the following: a central network as the framework; various bodies to create and govern the areas involved, internal regulations, operational processes and common standards (…) securing strategic sites.”
The new Silk Road is a platform then; China is giving everyone access on various conditions: that the areas affected by the sea and land routes are “peaceful,” presumably free from internal political intervention in the different countries, in accordance with the “non-interference” principle that has always been dear to Beijing.
Another condition is the obligation to stick to the geographical and trade routes that Beijing has agreed and signed with the various counter-parties. And all the projects that could “take” the route — freight, infrastructure, oil pipelines, logistics — help to increase turnover and require companies involved to participate in the new development.
In the United States, the major question regarding OBOR is this: How does Washington fit into this? How can they benefit from a project that would be suicide to remove themselves from for merely ideological reasons? Similarly, there has been a recorded increase in China’s activity in many parts of the world; not just in terms of the economy, but from a military perspective, too. According to the Financial Times, there is a new trend in China: The private security services industry is growing. There are at least 3,200 employees of private Chinese security firms across the world.
In the majority of cases, they are former soldiers of the National Liberation Army. Beijing is very cautious of this trend, since they want to avoid any negative events like that of the American Blackwater. Clearly, not everything went to plan, though, and Beijing decided to take the huge risk in forming its own staff, because according to some investigations and a series of published documents, the former head of Blackwater himself has created two training camps in China, in the style of his former company known for offering bribes to American military policy makers and some huge scandals.
The response to the question being posed in the States, then, seems to be provided by analyzing the activity of a company that provides security and logistics services, the Frontier Service Group. BuzzFeed recently investigated it using internal sources, but Frontier’s work has been known about for a long time. Only recently did the press confirm what had been suspected for a while: the opening of two training camps in China, in Yunnan and Xinjiang, for former soldiers of the people’s liberation army. The aim: to gain a way in to the OBOR strategy by training the staff that will be in charge of keeping the “intersections” of the land and sea trade routes devised by China’s leaders safe.
Of course, there’s more: What exactly is Frontier? It’s an company listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, owned by Chinese company Citic (the largest public investment group in China) and chaired by Erik Prince. He’s not just anybody; he’s the former head of the aforementioned Blackwater, the “training” company that sent bribes to war zones and has already been involved in scandals from the Middle East to Latin America, considered by most as a sort of military wing of the CIA.
Prince is also the brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And yet, Prince financed Trump’s electoral campaign, with $100,000 given to the Trump Victory Committee and to the Republicans, and is a regular guest at Breitbart News, often interviewed by the black heart of the U.S. administration, Steve Bannon (who recently predicted a military clash with China in the Pacific within 10 years). Prince has always been considered a “Christian supremacist,” and he has financed various conservative candidates during his life, despite calling himself a “libertarian,” meaning that he belongs to that capitalist and racist section of the right, which now, with Trump, seems to have returned to power.
The picture looks like this: Trump’s America does business with China through one of the most suspicious figures in terms of security, bribes and contractors and who become a symbol of Bush’s failure in Iraq.
Frontier, in offering military services, violates American laws in this regard and poses questions on the good relations that seem to occur between Prince and Trump; at least, this is how it could look given the anti-Chinese attitude Trump displayed throughout the electoral campaign. But business is business, as shown by Trump’s request to Beijing (who accepted) to approve 38 of his brands and to include them on the Chinese market. At home, Trump is a protectionist; abroad, he’s a liberal. Trump’s plan with China is yet to be discovered. According to Frontier’s press, provided by a BuzzFeed source, “an operative base has been opened in the Chinese province of Yunnan and another in Xinjiang.” At the end of the communication, it is also reported that Prince affirmed that Frontier aims to participate in the huge opportunities provided by One Belt, One Road.
The BuzzFeed investigation reads: “In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. ‘FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.’ The training at the Chinese bases would ‘help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.’” A “ridiculous” affirmation, according to some of Prince’s former partners who spoke to BuzzFeed. What will they use, they ask themselves, “psychic powers”?
After all, Prince’s “core business” is training paramilitaries, services for which he already collaborated with China in Africa (there is a 2014 Forbes article on this, titled: “We Created a Monster: Ex-Blackwater CEO Erik Prince Is Going Neocolonial with China”). And some observers say that China needs Frontier’s services to develop security services that its own staff cannot manage. In this sense, it must be said that many Chinese military analysts, still today, want to see greater investment in their own armed forces, to close the gap with the Americans.
Xi Jinping continued in his own direction, which aims to make the navy the pride and joy of the Chinese armed forces. Frontier is also in partnership with other Chinese companies regarding insurance and aviation services. As written in the media, “the only challenge of the new silk road is offering services and products for new markets.” The new Silk Road opens new trade routes but it requires many agreements.
China’s usual ability to engage in talks with anyone, demonstrated by Xi’s visit last year to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran could face a few hiccups. According to many observers, Beijing may not be granted all its wishes. Xi visited dozens of capitals in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, and he even tried to close Chinese business with Afghanistan.
In September of last year, Kabul and Beijing launched the first railway service connecting the two countries, a historic step. “Without Afghan connections, there is no way to connect China to the rest of the world,” said Yao Jing, Chinese ambassador in Afghanistan, when celebrating the first train that connected the two countries. A train route from Nantong in China to Hairatan in Afghanistan, passing through the middle of Asia; a two-week train journey, instead of six months using roads and often difficult routes.
For years, China has planned huge investments to access Afghanistan’s abundance of resources, which, according to Kabul’s estimates, are worth over $3 billion. Metallurgical Corp. of China Ltd obtained a license in 2007 to extract from the largest copper deposit in Afghanistan, and China National Petroleum Corp. won a tender in 2011 for oil. And not only this, because it’s being said, especially in the mining industry, that China has even been given the green light from the Taliban that control the mining area in Mes Aynek. According to the Taliban, China promised over $3 billion to start a mining project in the area.
The government in Kabul denied the agreement, maintaining that the Taliban are “full of hot air.” Maybe, but last week, a group of Taliban representatives were guests in Beijing; it was the second meeting in 10 months. Sayed Masood, a professor at Kabul University, told Bloomberg that Chinese investments in Afghanistan are becoming huge, making China “the country’s main trading partner.” Investments that will be protected. With its own money or that provided by someone else, perhaps by the supremacist Prince’s Frontier.
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