While Prigozhin’s motives and aims behind rebellion are still being debated, it has drawn fresh attention to the use of private security companies by Russia, China, and many other countries.
Like Russia, China is increasingly using private security firms to guard its nationals and properties across the globe.
These companies engage in various activities such as combating piracy on cargo ships in the Gulf of Aden, providing security for railway infrastructure in Kenya, safeguarding fuel depots in Sri Lanka and .
These firms, often referred to as “little green men,” typically provide a variety of security services, including armed protection, risk assessment, and training.
China’s growing global economy has heightened Beijing’s security concerns. Under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, which focuses on infrastructure development, Chinese enterprises have undertaken significant projects across numerous developing countries. These ventures, including ports, railways, and dams, have employed hundreds of thousands of Chinese nationals in potentially risky foreign locations.
There is some concern that China could start to use private military companies more in the future. In 2017, China passed a law that allows for the use of private military companies in “international peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance missions.”
This law could open the door for China to use private military companies in more assertive ways, such as to protect its interests in disputed territories or to support its allies in conflicts.
However, defense analysts point out significant differences between groups like Wagner and Chinese private security firms. Unlike the paramilitary forces of Wagner, which are equipped for warfare, Chinese security companies primarily handle non-lethal guard duties.
The Chinese Communist Party’s focus on centralized power leaves little room for private security firms to initiate military actions similar to Wagner’s rebellion in Russia. The People’s Liberation Army, technically the party’s army, demands absolute loyalty from all national security forces.
Nonetheless, some analysts speculate that China’s broad definition of national security and its inclination to infuse political priorities into commercial ventures could lead to an expanded role for private security firms.
“China could use private security companies as a platform for spreading its influence,” Sergey Sukhankin, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told the Wall Street Journal.
As great power competition between the United States and China heats up, China is likely to support aggressive utilization of private security firms to advance its gray-zone warfare and influence operation capabilities, said a report in the Diplomat.
“As demonstrated with the Kremlin’s decision to utilize the Wagner group as units for false flag and other black operations throughout the war in Ukraine, Chinese pride security companies could function similarly in the case of the Taiwan Strait crisis, giving the Chinese government motivation to foster their growth,” said the report in the Diplomat.
(With inputs from agencies)