Increase in police firepower

BEIJING has equipped the People's Armed Police (PAP) with more powerful weapons to help ensure stability in the post-Deng Xiaoping era.

More functions and operations of the paramilitary force have also come under the control of the Central Military Commission, the Army's highest unit.

Sources in the capital said the leadership had recently approved mobile armaments for the PAP.

They included tactical hardware normally used by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) such as airships and armoured vehicles.

More units of the PAP have also been turned into mobile and emergency squads to deal with contingencies such as urban riots.

The sources said the outlines of the re-structuring were laid down in a joint meeting of the commission and the State Council in April.

Senior army and civilian leaders including President Jiang Zemin, premier Li Peng and Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman General Liu Huaqing spoke at the secret session on the more effective use of the PAP to ensure political stability and safeguard the rule of the Communist Party.

The leaders reaffirmed in theory that the PAP should continue to come under the 'dual leadership' of the commission and the State Council.

However, major areas including command control, training, personnel and logistics have fallen under the commission's jurisdiction.

It is understood that this will help ensure the nation's military and para-military forces come under a unified command.

Since Mr Deng's health deteriorated markedly last winter, the commission has taken control of more aspects of internal security.

At the April meeting, senior PAP and PLA officers also underscored the importance of loyalty to the party leadership headed by Mr Jiang, who is also commission chairman. The session also approved more funds for the force for new weapons and a more aggressive recruitment drive.

The latest official figure on the PAP strength is 680,000. Most Western military analysts, however, have put the number at at least 800,000.

The bulk of PAP's finances would still come from the State Council and be separate from the military budget.

Meanwhile, sources close to the PLA said yesterday that the commission had decided to speed up the process of rejuvenation.

With the help of commission vice-chairmen General Liu and General Zhang Zhen, Mr Jiang has put together a list of officers in their 40s and early 50s for promotion in the coming year to senior positions at both PLA headquarters and the military regions.

'Recently, Mr Jiang has expressed worries about the problem of ageing in the Army's leadership,' a source said. He added that the commission itself would undergo a thorough reshuffle immediately after the 15th Party Congress planned for late 1997.