The Chinese have a saying: “When you are well-prepared, you have nothing to fear.” For risk managers the watchword is the same
In recent years, no other country in the world has grabbed headlines – and peoples’ attention – as much as China has. Whether that’s due to its booming economy, or its rising geopolitical stature or simply its massive population, there is no doubt that China is a world player. Yet the country remains an enigma to much of the rest of the world.
Deeply traditional in its values, it retains a diversity of cultural and historic landmarks that tourists yearn to see. At the same, its business climate has been steadily improving, drawing in thousands of business travelers a year. Indeed, it may be poised to eclipse the US as the world’s next leading superpower.
China’s eminence in the world is a force to reckon with, even as it endures rapid economic and social change. Thus, it’s wise for travelers to be prepared for a very different and complex business environment upon arrival. Companies sending mobile employees to China are well advised to educate themselves about risks beforehand, prepare to manage and mitigate them – and then to proceed with caution.China 101
The People’s Republic of China was established on Oct. 1, 1949, with Beijing as its capital. Political power remains centralized in the Chinese Communist Party. With over 1.3 billion citizens, China is the world’s most populous country and the fourth-largest in terms of territory.
For most visitors, China continues to be a very safe destination. “Petty crime and/or scams targeting tourists is probably the greatest risk to travelers, though incidents rarely involve violence,” observes Lee Ridley, watch operations manager and security analyst for Asia at iJET International, an Annapolis MD-based risk management provider.
“However, travelers are usually able to mitigate such risks by maintaining situational awareness at all times, refraining from displaying symbols of wealth such as nice jewelry, and keeping cash and valuable documents in front pockets,” Ridley continues. “Also, travelers should rely on hotels to arrange outings for them, especially if not a frequent visitor to the country.”
While crime is common throughout China, terrorism has mostly been confined to its Xinxiang province. Fortunately, neither foreigners nor foreign companies have been targeted in terrorist incidents, which have occurred at train stations (Kunming, Urumqi, and Guangzhou) and at tourist sites (Tiananmen Square).
“However, foreign travelers have become collateral damage in some instances,” explains Ridley. “Travelers should use caution when visiting popular tourist sites, especially those outside of major cities which might be considered softer targets by militants.”
Beyond these threats, protests can also erupt. “Though incidents of unrest are growing in China, most demonstrations remain small and are quickly dispersed or managed by security personnel,” Ridley continues. “Additionally, such events typically do not affect foreigners in the country, except for occasional traffic disruptions. Travelers should avoid all demonstrations and should never attempt to record incidents of civil unrest, as it could lead to having their equipment confiscated or being temporarily detained.”
Because of China’s enormous geographical size, travelers often have varying needs, dependent on what part of the country they are in. “Fortunately, we are able to customize a travel plan for travelers who often have very different needs, and depending on whether they are an expat or a seasoned business traveler,” explain Megan Sechehay, iJET’s Director of Client Management. “We understand the nuances that varying experiences bring to risks, and so we maintain an “all hazards approach” – that is, we include not just security risks but also medical tips, information on cultural nuances, and cyber security too.”
In fact, medical risks are often overlooked. China ranks among the top nations for tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization. Additionally, the rampant growth of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in China is alarming, as is the rapid rise in the case rate of HIV.
“Although Avian Influenza and air pollution grab headlines as notorious health risks in China, the risks to the casual business traveler from these phenomena are actually fairly low when proper precautions are taken,” advises Katherine Harmon, iJET’s director of health intelligence. “The most reported infectious disease is gastrointestinal ailments, most of which are attributed to foodborne contamination and hepatitis A.”Cyber Security Threats
What many risk managers and employees traveling to China are most concerned with, however, is industrial espionage. According to the US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), “Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business-sensitive information may be taken and shared with local interests.”
“Corporate personnel participating in major business negotiations should take extra steps to guard proprietary or pricing information,” advises Ed Daly, iJET’s director of watch operations.
“Government agents may monitor or break into hotel rooms. Foreign enterprises should be aware of enhanced surveillance in almost all parts of China. The government regularly monitors telephonic communications, and has been accused of corporate spying.”
Attempts to compromise the safety of confidential information are a reality that both business travelers and risk managers should be prepared for. Daly offers the following tips for cyber-security in China:
Before You Travel
• Ensure you have a firewall installed on your traveling computer.
• Ensure that file-sharing capabilities are disabled when you connect to the Internet outside of your office. Ask your IT department about this: Most computers using Microsoft Windows enable file sharing by default; you must turn it off.
Virtual Access Suggestions
• Only send sensitive information over the Internet if the address in the address bar is preceded by “https://” rather than simply “http://”. This ensures that the data is encrypted.
• Never connect to “ad-hoc” or “peer-to-peer” wireless networks - these are often attackers masquerading as legitimate access points.
• Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access your corporate systems. If your company does not have a VPN, consider an online service to create a secure connection. Clear third-party choices with your IT department before travel.
• When going through airport security ensure your electronic devices and media are never out of your sight.
• Never leave your laptop or media devices unattended – even briefly.
• Carry your laptop with you, keeping it in contact with you or in a visible location.
• Avoid discussing proprietary or operation specific information with anyone, no matter how innocent looking.
• Though vary rare, some Chinese taxi drivers may serve as government informants. Avoid discussing sensitive information when traveling by taxi.
At Your Hotel
• Be aware that hotel wireless (WiFi) connections are not necessarily secure.
• Never check your electronic devices and media with a hotel baggage service or with your checked travel luggage.
• It is best to lock these electronics in your hotel’s safety deposit box.
• Change passwords after leaving China if public computers were used to access company e-mail while in China.What’s a Company To Do?
Like any other foreign destination, the best way to ensure a safe trip and meet duty of care obligations in China is to educate travelers about specific risks and accompanying mitigation strategies. One of the most effective ways to deliver this information is through pre-trip briefings, which often convey to employees the feeling that they are valued.
“The pretrip briefing we received before we left for China adequately prepared us for our trip,” says Mansoor Khan, director IT audit, internal audit department for Marriott International at headquarters in Bethesda, MD. “I didn’t feel surprised or shocked upon arrival, and actually felt more educated when I conducted business there because of it,” he notes.
This reinforces the fact that trainings should be part of a company’s duty of care strategy, which can also help to mitigate liability and the associated consequences. “To offer a perfect example of Duty of Care in China and the costly consequence that can occur, we refer to the March 2013 case where a jury awarded $41.7 million to a Connecticut teen who fell ill with encephalitis contracted from tick bites on a school field trip in China,” explains iJET’s Barbara Vitkauskas, VP partner development. The lawsuit alleged that the school negligently failed to protect students from tick bites.Developing a Holistic Policy
But what does a company’s duty of care policy actually look like? According to Vitkauskas, a robust travel risk management program can include:
• Real-time threat alerts for travelers on the road, delivered directly to their e-mail and mobile devices — if there is not cellphone capability in remote areas of the world, satellite phones can be used to help track clients while traveling.
• A 24/7 Helpline for incident reporting and triage.
• Proven travel-tracking, information and communication systems.
• Integrated crisis management teams.
• Security advice and assistance and response.
• Evacuation and repatriation services.
• Transportation services, including coordination with local authorities.
Armed with information about their destination before they go, not only are business travelers well-equipped with the situational awareness they need to be safe during their stay, but they also come to appreciate their organization’s awareness of travel related risk.
“A holistic and proactive approach toward developing and implementing duty of care practices can help to ensure compliance while optimizing an organization’s enterprise risk management strategy, giving it a competitive edge,” states iJET’s Vitkauskas. By offering employees comprehensive security, medical and travel insurance and enlisting the services of a reliable assistance provider, a company’s employees cannot only remain safe, but also return from China with a sense of wonder and amazement.