China punches up private security to protect overseas interests in hostile, unstable regions

by Kandy Wong at

When Wolf Warrior 2 swept through China’s cinemas in 2017, the harrowing war thriller resonated with audiences like no film ever had. Devoted to flag-waving patriotism, it scratched a nationalistic itch by featuring a one-man Chinese army standing up to foreign mercenaries while saving his compatriots.

And aside from smashing box office records, it gave rise to a term known as “wolf-warrior diplomacy”, with official rhetoric and practices that are more confrontational and combative than calm and cooperative.

Subsequent films further cashed in on nationalistic pride by depicting heroic Chinese forces abroad, as in 2018’s Operation Red Sea, which was inspired by the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s evacuation of Chinese citizens during the 2015 Yemen civil war.

These types of blockbusters – carefully edited and released under the scrutiny of state censors – fed into the narrative that China should protect its overseas interests when they are threatened, and by force if necessary.

But in reality, it is less likely to be the People’s Liberation Army swooping in to save the day, and more likely to be a well-paid private security contractor hired to protect the overseas interests of Chinese businesses – especially those with operations in less stable regions.

The Ukraine war and the Israel-Gaza war illustrate the types of dangers that Chinese investors could face in the course of doing business overseas.

And such conflicts may be further reinforcing the need for Beijing to make new contingency plans to safeguard Chinese interests abroad while ensuring that trade routes continue to bring home critical goods such as valuable minerals.