By Manzoor Ahmed
Is China turning its corporate staff into soldiers in suits? The news of world’s biggest surveillance equipment manufacturer, based in Zhejiang province, sending its employees to a military boot camp has raised serious questions about the intent behind the exercise.
The company in question is Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd, the world’s biggest supplier of CCTV cameras and surveillance equipment. It is in effect owned by the Chinese government, with 42 per cent of its controlling shares held by various Chinese government enterprises.
The company’s association with the Chinese government goes beyond stock holding. It began its journey in 2001 as a Chinese government research institute. Its chairman is a Chinese government official, a Communist Party secretary. One of its senior executives, Shiliang Pu is an important official in the Ministry of Public Security.
With over 26000 employees and offices in 18 locations in different parts of the world, the giant corporate supplies surveillance equipment to almost every other country in the world, including the US. In facts, its products have been so widely used by various military units that there has been a growing concern among the users of the possibility of Chinese spying through these surveillance equipment. The company is also accused by various human rights groups of running the Chinese government’s xenophobic surveillance programme in Xinjiang against its Muslim citizens.
These concerns are now magnified by reports that the digital company is putting its employees through a compulsory military training at an establishment run by retired military and police officers. The boot camp, Zhejiang Military Culture Park, is located at Binhai New Town of Shaoxing city, Zhejiang province.
A batch of 10 to 15 employees spend close to four weeks at the boot camp. Most of the employees are young. The older employees are put through a shorter version of the boot camp training, lasting two weeks.
The training includes physical activities like obstacle crossing, survival courses, wall climbing and battle simulations, along with rigorous exercising forming part of the daily routine. Though there is no arms training yet, the trainees are exposed to the use and handling of weapons and gadgets. In addition, class room sessions are held on party ideology where trainees are made to shout slogans and take oath of allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.
Physical training is an integral part of the boot camp. It includes a regimen of exercises at strength building and building self-confidence.
Although the Hikvision management consider it an important exercise in strengthening their cadre, the employees are openly sceptical about the programme, some even terming it `repugnant` and `tortuous`.
Hikvision is not only company which is getting its employees trained at the military boot camp, Telecom giant, Huawai, has been sending its employees to the boot camp.
The question that is being raised in different quarters is on the intent behind such an exercise. The world-wide presence of these military-trained staff working in big corporate offices could act as instruments of surveillance and disruption for the Chinese government. Though there is no direct evidence of such an activity but the increasing disquiet over the growing clout of Chinese corporations in different parts of the world makes it difficult to dismiss such fears.