Doing Business in Asia

By Peter Piazza

Booming economies, a highly educated and comparatively cheap work force, and a wealth of local resources are some of the factors luring multinationals to set up operations throughout Asia. If your company is one of those seeking to do business in Asia, you’ll need to understand the threats that exist across the region. For example, China is widely considered the world’s leader in terms of intellectual property loss, counterfeiting, and economic espionage. Businesses that seek to operate there must take extra care in selecting business partners and securing proprietary information.

Crime in Asia comes in all sizes. In many regions, foreign businessmen are seen as “walking ATMs” and become victims of theft. Extortion is also a concern. In Japan, for example, gangsters have been known to blackmail a company by threatening to disturb a shareholders meeting. In some Chinese regions, criminals delay construction projects until they are paid off.

In some Asian countries, terrorism is a major concern. In Southeast Asia, fears of terrorism increased after a 2002 bombing in Bali that targeted Western tourists. Indonesia is not the only country in which Western targets are at risk; attacks on local employees or on expatriates in the wrong place at the wrong time can affect Western businesses located in other Asian countries as well.

Despite these concerns, security professionals say that there is only a limited amount of information sharing about threats, and much of this is informal. Some regional groups, including local ASIS chapters, Overseas Security Advisory Council meetings, and Regional Security Offices are helping businesses to share relevant data and are good places to start when assessing risk.

UP the Ladder

Like their counterparts in the West, security managers are increasingly finding a seat at the executive table and playing bigger roles in their organizations. “Security management in Asia has moved up the corporate ladder into a more strategic role and in many industries has become more closely integrated with the business it serves and supports,” says Craig Foster, a Singapore-based risk consultant.

But the progress made is relative. For one thing, says Jessie Ng, regional communications manager of Group 4 Securicor, “the profile of security managers in Asia was much lower to begin with” than that of their counterparts overseas. Many companies did not even have a dedicated security management function.

Moreover, not everyone is experiencing the improvement. Unless they are employed by a multinational corporation, says Ng, “Asia’s managers have not enjoyed any major elevation in status, although they are faced with increasing demands and pressures.”

Even for those fortunate enough to have more access to and influence with executives, it is not easy to get resources. If that greater role is to translate into larger budgets, security directors must know how to make the case for security in business terms. “Overall, risk management and security programs in Asia still tend to be reactive, rather than proactive, and security managers may need to consider presenting a more sophisticated business-driven case in order to justify increased budgets on a return-on-investment basis,” Foster says.

Asian Numbers

Some statistics will give you an idea of the vastness of Asia, and why there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to security that will work.

More than 1.3 billion people live in China, and another billion in India; more than eight times as many people live in these two countries than live in the United States.

While Japan’s total land mass is roughly equivalent to that of Montana, the country’s islands stretch nearly 3,000 kilometers from the snowy north of Hokkaido to the sunny beaches of Okinawa; by contrast, the distance between Bangor, Maine, and Miami, Florida, is only about 2,500 kilometers.

The archipelago of Indonesia comprises more than 17,000 islands—only about 6,000 of them are inhabited by the country’s more than 200 million citizens.


Peter Piazza is an associate editor at Security Management. He has lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Thailand



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