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Illustration by Security Management

Operational Challenges in Asia Pose Long-Term Security Risks

It has been a tough year for multinational corporations (MNCs). With COVID-19 disruptions to supply chains, increasingly distributed terrorist threats, and unpredictable travel restrictions, security leaders have had to contend with a breadth of challenges, not the least of which is keeping tabs on myriad threat landscapes and emerging risks.

In a year-end report, G4S Corporate Risk Services unveiled its risk outlooks for 19 locations across Asia, measuring likelihoods of political instability, terrorism, petty crime, natural disasters, health crises, and more from 2020 and into 2021. The tactical overview is geared to helping organizations develop risk mitigation strategies for operations and travel in the region.

The full Asia Emerging Risks report is available for free online (registration required), and Security Management checked in with Robert Dodge, CPP, president of G4S Corporate Risk Services, to learn more about the threats outlined in the report and the emerging and evolving challenges in Asia.  

The report calls out a number of internal conflicts affecting various countries in Asia, including political instability and long-term cultural challenges (such as tension between different religious groups or ethnic minorities). How does this look to affect multinational organizations’ security in 2021 and beyond?

Dodge: Unrest in Thailand, particularly Bangkok in the latter half of the year, caused operational difficulties for MNC companies. Malls and retail outlets closed in the face of massive protests, and the public transport system was shut down. The impacts extended to staff and threatened to impact deliveries and supplies. This is set to continue into 2021 with calls for reform and political change.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, massive demonstrations by labor unions and other groups protesting controversial new legislation closed major thoroughfares. Hardline religious groups with charismatic, firebrand leaders sought to undermine the legitimacy of the government, using religious motifs to stir up the population. Midway into his second and final term in office, this could destabilize the Indonesian president and cast a veil of uncertainty across politics in 2021.

Hong Kong saw extensive social unrest this year before China introduced its National Security Law. Unrest could erupt again in 2021, and clients should be prepared for this contingency.

Malaysia, too, is seeing political unrest with key leaders vying for primacy. This leads to uncertainty for MNC companies. While the Rohingya crisis continues, investors will not return to Myanmar, and the poverty and unrest there will persist. The naming of a new leader of the country in January following November’s election is unlikely to restore stability.

Finally, the dispute that emerged on the India–China border this year could worsen when winter passes, allowing for easier troop mobility across the region. The dispute has entered into the tech field with India banning major Chinese apps. This will be unique feature of risk in 2021—the role online technologies and the Internet play in international affairs and disputes.

As witnessed in recent years, many security situations appear to boil over in an instant, sparking widespread conflict, protests, or attacks. What factors do proactive risk monitoring services track to better anticipate such powder keg situations and advise their clients?

We track a number of key physical and business risk factors. Principally, for physical risks we track terrorism; political instability; civil unrest; social, religious, and ethnic conflict; labor and union affairs; and natural disasters, weather, and climate.

With business risks, we monitor corruption, justice and legal affairs, intellectual property, and fraud, etc. G4S tracks and reports on these factors on a daily and weekly basis, identifying trends and highlighting key issues and potential client impacts, and in certain countries digger even deeper. For example, in China, we have focused on the risk of arbitrary detentions.

How is climate change altering the risk landscape across Asia? What can security leaders do to address business continuity challenges given this changing risk?

Climate change and environmental impacts are affecting air quality and worsening pollution levels, as seen in Bangkok, Jakarta, and parts of China. In our research, we concentrate on the effect of climate change on crops and how this hurts the economies of certain countries where changing patterns can have an impact on long-term food security.

Populations and MNC companies alike are dependent upon these commodities, with coffee and cacao among those most often cited as at risk. Rising sea levels are affecting much of southeast Asia and the broader region, hampering development and threatening the longevity of major investment. This affects the risk landscape by bringing in the dimension of social conflict, displacement, and threats to livelihood and prosperity. A conflict over water is also likely in the future.

Many of the countries in the report are essential partners along supply chains. How are the issues cited in the report likely to affect global supply routes and distribution in coming years? How has this outlook changed given the events of 2020?

Global supply chains and distribution have been massively impacted by COVID-19. It will take time to restore their viability, and one way in which MNC companies are affected is that they will have to re-evaluate their dependence on just-in-time supply chains, given their obvious fragility. More contingencies will have to be built in, and this could make products more expensive.

Terrorism was frequently flagged as a high concern throughout the report, particularly in Indonesia. How should organizations weigh these risks against other more likely issues, such as petty crime, theft, and harassment?

Terrorism has been a major risk in many of the countries covered in the report, as groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State continue to encourage affiliates in south and southeast Asia. Though the number and scale of attacks may have declined in some countries, the threat remains. Major terror incidents, such as those seen in Indonesia or Pakistan, set back business and investment significantly and may lead to travel restrictions—an impact petty crime, theft, and harassment do not have.

Given the various threats and challenges in different environments, such as the Philippines, Pakistan, and India, how do threats vary for different demographics of business travelers, particularly along gender, race, and sexual orientation lines? For example, if crimes against women are on the rise in India, how can organizations better account for that risk when advising and dispatching female business travelers?

Companies are becoming more aware of these risks and are increasingly providing specific training, especially as they diversify their ranks with a larger number of women or employees who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. This is also extending beyond training. For example, hotels are now also catering to women by offering women-only floors for increased security and peace of mind.

Companies should monitor embassy advisories and actively highlight the needs of their employees in their feedback. Companies should also stipulate that their providers actively take these requirements into account during service delivery. Active risk intelligence services can help to highlight where race might be an issue, allowing companies and travelers to be forewarned and therefore forearmed when traveling.