This month's security bulletin focuses on:
- Hong Kong
The decision late on Saturday 5 October by the US to withdraw their troops from Northern Syria has, unsurprisingly, led to an uptick in violence in the region as Turkey seeks to establish a “buffer zone” along its border. The declared intent of creating a buffer zone may be debatable, but the upshot of what looks like a conventional conflict between Turkish forces and allied militias against the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is much less so.
Arguably this has little direct impact on the vast majority of business and business travellers. Very few people have legitimate reasons to be travelling to Northern Syria or the Turkish border areas and aside from a variety of specialist organisations most will not be sending people to the vicinity. However, it is notable and worth keeping an eye on for a number of reasons. There are complicated dynamics at play in the region, Hezbollah (and by extension) Iran support the Assad regime as do the Russians. Reports on Monday 14 October suggest that the SDF have agreed a deal with Syrian forces that will see them deploying into N. Syria to help halt Turkey’s offensive. This shows that the abandonment of the Kurds creates a gap that erstwhile enemies are quick to exploit. Given the wider dynamics of the region and current tensions that exist surrounding Iran and their nuclear capabilities this development could change the balance of power. The SDF have understandably stated that preserving their lives and defending against the Turkish aggression is a higher priority than maintaining a guard on various refugee and prison camps within their areas of operations. Without their vigilance the chances of IS fighters and suspects escaping are greatly enhanced. This could in turn lead to a fracturing of that organisation with potentially a large number of jihadists heading back to Europe – many with the intent and capability to carry on their perceived struggle. Recep Tayyip Erdogan the Turkish president has, also targeted this fear, threatening to “open the gates” by sending millions of refugees to Europe in retaliation to any criticism of his country’s operations in N. Syria. Given Turkey's status as a member of NATO further upset could occur in the Global order depending upon how events play out.
Protests in Hong Kong have not significantly subsided following the withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and they are likely to continue. How long for however probably solely rests on the forbearance of the Chinese authorities. On Sunday 13 October, during a state visit to Nepal, China’s president Xi Jinping warned that trying to divide the country would result in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”. No mention of any particular situation was made; however it is widely believed to be directed at Hong Kong. China will not allow dissent to fester for long and as the situation drags on it becomes more likely that in order to save face punitive measures will be taken. It is suspected that the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) have already been integrated into the Hong Kong Police, which if true, suggests that the Chinese authorities are positioning forces to allow them to respond assertively if or when required. Businesses and travellers should have robust contingency plans (including shelter in place). Hong Kong airport has already been shut down so consider alternative means of exiting Hong Kong, for example the Macau ferry. There may be visa issues if looking to exit via mainland China so ensure that this is explored and dealt with as required, as trying to deal with this at short notice during escalated tensions may prove problematic.