Executive Protection Operations in Taiwan – 6 Key Considerations
By: Michael Mancino
Conducting executive protection operations in Asian countries as an English speaker presents a multitude of challenges not found here in the United States. I hope to be able to share my experience in living and working in Taiwan so that it may assist my fellow protectors navigate the waters in a potentially unfamiliar setting.
Naturally, this is a topic that could span dozens of pages, but here I’ll attempt to narrow down the 6 most likely obstacles one may face if travelling with a client to Taiwan.
Some things you should consider when travelling in the area include:
1. Political Considerations
Taiwan is a vibrant democracy but the political climate can be contentious at times. Most notably, there is much strife between China and Taiwan as to whether Taiwan belongs to China. The Taiwanese government operates the country as an independent nation. However, there is ongoing concern over the “One China Policy” and how this affects international relations with Taiwan. Officially, Taiwan is not recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States due to a 1976 diplomatic communique switching recognition from Taiwan to China. Unofficially, the United States has maintained a healthy economic relationship with Taiwan.
The political strife that is present between Taiwan and China’s government does, to some degree, filter down to the people. There are divisions among the political parties which cause rifts, particularly when it comes to reunification with the mainland. It is not uncommon for political protests to break out during election times. However, they generally remain peaceful, causing mostly commuter inconvenience.
As an executive protection professional traveling to Taiwan with a client, it would be wise to know whether your client, or those your client may be dealing with, have a public stance on the issue. If they openly support either side, they may open doors to disruption by activists.
Avoiding travel close to election periods may be wise, but if not possible then contracting with quality local support that keeps abreast of the ongoing political climate is essential. Depending on budget and timeline, consideration should be placed to including local language social media and web monitoring to the ongoing threat assessment.
2. Language Barriers
The official language of Taiwan is Mandarin and Chinese. While you will find a multitude of people who speak acceptable English, verbiage and cultural nuances may inhibit your ability to effectively communicate specific needs as they relate to your security operation.
Most travelers are content to get by with their dictionaries or Google Translate. In my experience, many of these applications fail to accurately capture regional differences. Therefore, you should attempt to secure at least a part-time translator that has verified experience and is familiar with both the local dialect and regional distinctions from your area of the world.
Many of us may take for granted the significant differences in English dialects. Take for example, American and British English – there are numerous phrases and vocabulary that may seem completely foreign to one another. Even in the United States there is vocabulary and slang that is not universally understood. Thus, it is imperative that when hiring a translator or interpreter we verify that they are familiar with our particular brand of speech. I’ve dealt with individuals in Taiwan and Hong Kong who were completely fluent in English by all standards, but they had a hard time understanding my communication in English.
Ideally, we should look for those interpreters that also have knowledge or experience in security, military, law enforcement or executive protection. A combination of these skill sets, as well as acceptable fluency in the host country’s language, are rare. An acceptable alternative would be one that has experience working alongside government figures or high-level corporate clients.
3. Secure Transportation
Transportation in the major hubs of Taiwan, particularly the capital city of Taipei, is an adventure at best. Traffic conditions are extremely crowded on most major streets and consist of scooters, taxis, buses and personal vehicles. While the traffic laws are similar to what we find here in the United States, they seem to be more of a suggestion than a rule. Don’t expect most drivers to care that pedestrians have the right of way. Public transportation is one area where most of the major cities shine, particularly Taipei with its robust system of subways and above ground electric trains.
“Black car” services are available but the quality and skill of their drivers is questionable at best. Much of the time they are on the same level as the area’s taxi drivers. I’m lucky to say that I’ve never experienced any kind of incident while utilizing either of the services, but it can be a white-knuckle experience.
As most of us should be aware, black car service and secure transport do not always go hand in hand. I have met scarce few in Taiwan that can boast of any type of dedicated security driver experience that work on a for-hire base. Also, the horror stories regarding those that claim to be security drivers abound.
One of the most memorable is of an A-list celebrity that was travelling to Taipei for an upcoming event. The celebrity’s security detail secured the services of a local security driver for airport pickup and transportation to the hotel. The shenanigans began almost immediately as the driver was late to pick up, forcing the client to stand in the open amidst a gaggle of gawking fans. If you have ever travelled to Asia, you might understand how nerve wracking that would be for their protector.
The drive from the international airport to downtown Taipei is anywhere from 60-90 minutes along a decent highway surrounded in many places by mountainous jungle. About halfway back to the city the hired vehicle ran out of fuel forcing it to pull off the freeway. No secondary transportation was prepared and the client was forced to sit and wait for a replacement. Ultimately, they made it to the hotel, only to be greeted by a local “executive protection specialist” who promptly rushed the client to secure a once-in-a-lifetime selfie.
Fortunately, there are several individuals that have the chops necessary to execute a good executive transport, but they are not easy to find. Networking with local resources is essential as many of those that provide these types of services do not actively advertise. If you’re having trouble locating the right resources, feel free to reach out to me, or The ASA Group, anytime for guidance.
4. Local Support
Like secure transportation, quality local security support is hard to come by. Taiwan has little regulation on the security industry in general and even less on executive protection. There are a slew of individuals that claim to be experts in executive protection and boast experience ranging from military to government work. However, there often seems to be a lack of dedicated training.
It should go without saying that all local support that you would consider adding to your dedicated detail should be trained and vetted before beginning a service relationship.
Harking back to the earlier section on the language barrier, it is extremely important that if you hire local support you are able to communicate with them. It would be unwise to hire a local agent that is not demonstrably fluent in English. An understanding of English terminology as it relates to the security apparatus is crucial for effective execution of the detail. Take the extra time and arrange a Skype meeting so you can hear how the person communicates. Writing skills in an email are not sufficient to determine someone’s level of fluency.
5. General Crime
Fortunately, Taiwan is not considered a high-risk locale. The OSAC (Overseas Advisory Council) reports that crime in Taiwan is extremely low at only 1.3%. A robust surveillance apparatus is thought to contribute to the deterrence of violent crime. At the time of this writing, the violent crime rate against foreigners is extremely low at .01%. As a protector, this is good news. But these low statistics should not make you assume it makes for an easier protective detail.
What Taiwan lacks in violent crime it makes up for in petty crime and fraud. More often than not, petty thefts of personal items occur in crowded areas such as the mass transit stations, night markets, and other crowded shopping areas. Thieves take advantage of the dense crowds in these places and use them as cover to get up close and personal – making their crimes that much less detectable.
Taiwan has a particular brand of fraud that has become a huge problem. Criminals contact an individual telephonically, often claiming to be a representative of an official body such as police, other government agency or the victim’s bank. Similar to phishing, the fraudsters will present a convincing argument to elicit personal and financial information that can be used to steal one’s identity or personal funds.
Another type of fraud that is more and more common is false-kidnapping. I have personallywitnessed an alleged kidnapper call the parent of a student that is newly living away from home and claim to have kidnapped them. The frantic parent generally tries to contact their children via cell phone only to either have the call go unanswered, or in most cases, the offender answers the phone as they had stolen it in preparation for the fraud. The caller offers to return the victim safely in exchange for an amount of money or threatens bodily harm. More often than not the victims end up paying a lump sum of money via bank transfer to the offender out of fear for the safety of their loved one. In the case I witnessed we were fortunate that the offender had not anticipated the loved one was safely living in New York City at the time of the call.
Most others are not so lucky. Other variations on this theme include claiming to be involved in a car accident that the victim’s loved ones caused. The offender will threaten police involvement unless money is paid, or calls placed to parents of children where the offender will pretend to be the child and cry over the phone asking the victim for money to get them out of a bad situation.
6. Population Density
As a protector, you may find the population density difficult to deal with at times. While not quite as bad as some places in mainland China, personal space is at a premium, and it is not uncommon for people to be so densely packed in an area that you are in direct contact with several people at once. For those traveling with notable clients, such as celebrities, this density can prove a unique challenge as adoring fans have a tendency to swarm. Public transportation should be avoided wherever possible as these are usually the places with the highest density.
When making public appearances advance work is crucial. Lines are generally ignored in Asia and Taiwan are no exceptions. Many times, simple preparations that we may take for granted as security personnel, such as layers of stanchions or barriers, are overlooked, or improperly placed. Having a well-planned out route of ingress and egress for foot and vehicle travel is critical as swarms of individuals will mob around you in an attempt to snap that perfect selfie.
Executive Operations in Taiwan, Final Takeaways
The above are a few of the more prominent considerations you should consider when traveling with a client to Taiwan.
I hope that I’ve lent some insights to:
• Political Considerations
• Language Barrier
• Secure Transportation
• Local Support
• General Crime
• Population Density
Naturally, this is not an exhaustive list and your preparations should begin well in advance of the intended travel time.
If you find yourself in need of local support, advice or referrals, we would be happy to speak with you and offer our assistance in any way.
Michael Mancino is the owner and founder of TSR Associates, LLC. TSR Associates is an executive protection and investigations company based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas which provides executive protection, threat assessments, and a host of related services.
Mr. Mancino has unique skills such as fluency in Mandarin, Chinese, continuing certification as an Emergency Medical Technician, Tactical Combat Casualty Care certification and military medical training. With these specialties, we provide additional services in Mandarin translation, whether verbal or print, and advanced medical support. He has lived and travelled in Taiwan extensively, which made him an ideal choice to give his insights and expert knowledge on important considerations when conducting EP in the region.
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