05/24/2005, 00.00
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Money to be made in armoured cars and anti-riot gear

Social tensions due to farmers' unrest and ethnic strife are boosting revenues for a Chongqing company. Its list of products includes a 'Holy Road' armoured car with a multi-barrel canon for firing tear gas and a 'death car' designed to be a mobile station for death penalty execution by lethal injection.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Rising crime rates and social unrest and the growing gap between rich and poor have created a niche market in mainland China: armoured cars and anti-riot gear.

With courts last year dealing with 228,000 violent crimes ranging from bombings to robbery and growing social strife caused by protesting ethnic minorities, farmers and even soccer hooligans, the Gold Crown Group has become the largest maker of armoured vehicles in the country with business worth 500 million yuan.

Liu Ningbo, deputy manager of the Group's subsidiary Chongqing Jinguan Automobile Manufacturing, showed off the latest model of the Holy Road brand armoured car.

"Even if the tyre is hit by a bullet, the car can still run," he said.

The car, which comes with a multi-barrel canon for firing tear gas, has a price tag of one million yuan.

The car is due for delivery to western Xinjiang, an area of unrest among ethnic Uygurs, a local minority fighting for an independent state, some of whose members recently carried out a series of bombings and protests.

Wherever the government sees a threat to social stability, the company sees market opportunities. The mainland's biggest protests last year happened not far from the company's headquarters in Chongqing.

In October in neighbouring Sichuan province, tens of thousands of farmers in Hanyuan County protested against a hydroelectric dam project by staging a sit-in and surrounding a car carrying a high-ranking government official.

Mr Liu said "farmers smashed the shields carried by police, highlighting the need for better equipment."

Gold Crown offers a line of bullet-proof vests, body armour, helmets and shields.

"There's no way these shields can break. Knives or sticks—there won't be any problem," he said.

In another October incident, tens of thousands of protesters in Wanzhou, part of Chongqing, burned cars and destroyed government offices.

"Wanzhou police did not use equipment or vehicles made by Gold Crown at the time, but they are now a customer," Mr Liu said.

Armoured cars and vehicles with bullet-proof windows have proved to be the best sellers.

Gold Crown refits more than 1,000 vehicles a year, turning Ford vans into vehicles for transporting accused criminals to court and Mercedes Benz trucks into armoured cars for banks.

Among its specialised vehicles is a "death car", designed to be a mobile station for carrying out death penalties by lethal injection.

Buyers of the company's 50 types of cars include the Supreme People's Court, the People's Bank of China, police and rescue forces around the country, and rich entrepreneurs seeking added protection in troubled times.

"Business this year will be better than last year," Mr Liu said. (PB)

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