JIANG Zemin's administration is building the People's Armed Police (PAP) into a formidable force. The paramilitary group's activities in the past week have confirmed reports it has been put solidly under the control of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission (CMC). Its activities, which included exercises and demonstrations in riot control and combatting 'emergency' events, also showed Beijing's determination to use the PAP to snuff out challenges to the govern-ment. These include threats posed by laid-off workers and underground dissident groups. As PAP commander General Ba Zhongtan put it, the force has improved its ability to handle emergencies under 'modern conditions'. This was so it could 'more effectively maintain state security and social stability'. These developments have raised a series of disturbing questions about the Jiang administration's approach to the transition to the post-Deng Xiaoping order. Firstly, the transformation of a major institution in Chinese politics has taken place without proper constitutional or legal procedures. This includes getting the approval of the National People's Congress, the 'organ of the highest state power'. The PAP, which officially numbers 800,000, had until recently been under the dual leadership of the army and the Public Security Ministry of the State Council. That it has in effect come under the direct leadership of the CMC, which is chaired by Mr Jiang, has never been officially announced. The public only got to know about this indirectly when Mr Jiang, together with most members of the CMC, presided over the PAP manoeuvres last week. The same secretiveness has shrouded plans for the massive expansion of the group. General Ba merely pointed out last week the determination of the paramilitary force to meet the new demands placed on it by the recent fifth plenary session of the party's Central Committee. Informed sources in Beijing said the PAP, which had already grown to one million men under arms, had embarked on an unprecedented recruitment drive which could see its strength increase by 50 per cent in the ninth five-year plan period of 1996-2000. In the past year, the force has also boosted its arsenal in the areas of riot control, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as tactical operations. New equipment comprises combat airships, anti-chemical warfare weapons and microwave communications systems. Most notably, the PAP, whose functions have traditionally included patrolling borders and national forests, has become - apart from the army - Beijing's main tool for imposing 'the dictatorship of the proletariat'. General Ba alluded to this when he talked about the police's role under 'new historical conditions', a standard euphemism for the post-Deng era. He highlighted the need to raise the 'fighters' guard, particularly with a view to combatting emergency disruptions. During his inspection of the PAP manoeuvres, Mr Jiang underscored the need for 'countering the infiltration of corrupt ideas and cultures'. Emergency incidents are code words for challenges to the administration posed by the agents of 'hostile foreign powers', underground dissident groups, house churches, triads and elements of organised crime, trade unions and other kinds of illegal political organisations. The need to boost the PAP's prowess is a sign that organised crime and 'counter-revolutionary' activities have increased. Minister of Public Security Tao Siju revealed last month there were more than 400,000 major crimes in the first eight months of this year, up 13.2 per cent on the same period in 1994. As far as political opposition is concerned, it seems clear that having frozen political reform and other means whereby the Chinese Communist Party could conduct a dialogue with 'bourgeois-liberal elements', the Jiang leadership has decided to crush them with brute force. Beijing is particularly alarmed by the growth of underground organisations in rural areas. Suspect organisations include those linked with religion, the triads and local clans. Rather than being the result of the infiltration of the corrupt values of the West, however, these illegal organisations have thrived on Beijing's failure to solve the problem of rural unemployment and falling living standards. It is doubly disconcerting, however, that the Jiang leadership should see fit to employ drastic measures to ensure its 'dictatorship'. Aren't the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of State Security well-manned and well-armed enough? It is of course true the public security establishment has come under repeated criticism for inefficiency and sloppiness. Mr Jiang has also used this excuse to remove the PAP from its control. However, political analysts in Beijing see in the relentless buildup of the PAP signs that Mr Jiang and his allies do not trust their own security forces. 'Jiang wants a kind of balance of terror among the different armed and security units,' a Western diplomat said. 'While these forces are jealous of each other and are engaged in perennial turf battles, he is in a position to tip the balance.' While elements of the police and army might still profess allegiance to political foes such as National People's Congress chairman Qiao Shi and former state president Yang Shangkun, Mr Jiang seems more sure about the loyalty of the PAP. Since the fall of the Eastern bloc in the early 1990s, the Chinese leadership has paid particular attention to ensuring that, in the words of the Chinese propaganda machinery, the 'guns are pointed in the right direction'. Mr Jiang seems confident that even if one 'dictatorship tool' succumbs to the siren song of liberalisation, another would be able to keep the forces of change at bay.