China’s Push to its Digital and Security Companies in Gulf

markets and strategic hubs. However, the same threats that the West alleged to have faced with Chinese companies cannot be ruled out in the Gulf, even as Beijing is putting an all-out effort to promote its digital and security companies to supply intelligence monitoring networks to Middle East countries. While most of the western countries are banning Chinese surveillance products fearing surveillance and other security hassles, China has increased its engagement to secure contracts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others.

Qatar’s Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) Internal Security System Department which relied on Swedish technology for its CCTV surveillance systems, is now offering its market to Chinese companies. Hikvision and Dahua are the two prominent Chinese CCTV/video surveillance companies that have been present in Qatari CCTV Surveillance system since 2016.

Hikvision has provided a new technology to Qatar’s Security department known as ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) Technology, which enabled MoI to track down any vehicle in Qatar through its CCTV surveillance system. Notably, Qatar’s MoI has recently sought bidding for ‘face recognition technology’ enabled CCTV systems. Since Hikvision has already introduced this technology to the Qatar’s MoI, the bidding process is considered as part of formalities to be completed to give the contract to Hikvision.

In Saudi Arabia, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd. (HIKVISION), a subsidiary of China Electronics Technology Corporation (CETC), is bidding to provide Intelligent Traffic Management System which is upgrading the overall traffic architecture in its major towns at a cost of SAR 18 million. The Chinese company is also supplier of video surveillance equipment for civil and military purposes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent high-profile visit to Saudi Arabia described as “a milestone”, has caught global attention for signing several strategic deals, including with the tech giant Huawei. The Huawei Technologies deal is related to cloud computing, data centres and building high-tech complexes in Saudi cities. The Saudi media estimate that the value of agreements signed totals about USD 30 billion.

The China-Saudi deal comes in the wake of the US recently imposing a ban on approvals of new telecommunications equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies and ZTE, citing national security risks and despite Washington’s advice to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States not to be tempted by the commercial “carrot” offered by Beijing.

Around the globe, evidences have been found in security flaws and vulnerabilities of Chinese products, which are easy for hackers to take control, operate them remotely and use them to spy and garner intrusive information on the nation’s civilians and infrastructure. However, countries in the Middle East region are apparently ignoring these warnings.

Hikvision and Dahua have been banned from the US and UK markets. They were also in the news recently after Scotland announced phasing out Hikvision CCTV surveillance systems, citing security flaws and vulnerability. Scottish Ministers pointed to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report in July 2021 warning that Hikvision equipment should not be used in the UK.

For the past three years various rights groups and cross-party MPs in the UK have been sounding alarm over China’s Hikvision CCTV cameras that have been increased across the country. The British government had been advised to ban Hikvision and Dahua cameras due to security issues including Hikvision’s participation in assisting the Chinese Communist Party in creating a social control surveillance state, according to a media report.

Media also reported that MPs of the China Research Group warned ‘Chinese intelligence agencies’ can “tap into camera feeds in sensitive locations.” The Hikvision cameras could also be “accessed remotely by Chinese agents to gather intelligence.”

Meanwhile, Fraser Sampson, the UK Biometric and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, noted that he had obtained evidence that Hikvision’s involvement in five projects in Xinjiang “may go way beyond installation”.

While the West and the Europe are banning the Chinese digital equipment fearing national security threat and data breach, Middle Eastern countries are knowingly accepting them due to urgency of developing digital infrastructure and in the fear of losing investment from China if its digital companies are not allowed. However, how long the bonhomie could continue without breach of data and penetration in the systems of these users is to be seen as China is known for exploiting vulnerabilities of the client countries strategically.