China brings People’s Armed Police under control of top military chiefs

Paramilitary force will answer to body headed by President Xi Jinping

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2017, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 2:40pm

China will bring its paramilitary police force, the People’s Armed Police, under the direct control of the Central Military Commission, which controls the country’s armed forces, state media reported on Wednesday.

The 1.5 million-strong paramilitary police force previously came under a dual command structure of the CMC and the State Council, or cabinet, via the Ministry of Public Security. It serves as a backup for the military in times of war, and domestically has a role in putting down protests and counterterrorism – particularly in areas such as the restive far western Xinjiang region – as well as border defence and firefighting.

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Since taking power five years ago, President Xi Jinping has overseen a sweeping modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest military force, laying off troops, streamlining its organisation and investing in advanced weapons.

The paramilitary police force underwent a leadership reshuffle in 2014 that saw its commander and political commissar replaced with PLA officers. Xi ally Wang Ning, who had no police force experience, took the helm.

In a brief report on Wednesday, Xinhua said that from midnight on January 1 the People’s Armed Police would report to the CMC.

Xi heads the CMC in his role as armed forces chief and commander in chief. Xi has steadily consolidated his power over the military, and has appointed allies to key positions of power in the armed forces.

Xinhua did not provide any details on how the new reporting structure would work or why the government had made the decision.

However, the party’s official People’s Daily, in a commentary for publication on Thursday but reported by Xinhua on Wednesday, said the move was needed to ensure security and promote the aim of having a “strong military”. The paramilitary police force will remain separate, carry out its existing functions and not be absorbed into the PLA, People’s Daily said.

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Observers said the change was aimed at having all military under Xi’s control and creating a clear division of labour.

“The main reason to move the armed police directly under the CMC is to put all China’s military power in Xi’s hands,” said Hong Kong-based China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu.

Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi, said the move was in line with the constitution.

“The constitution says China’s military commission is in charge of all the country’s military, so putting the armed police under the CMC’s control helps to get the basics right to start with, but it will also improve the division of labour in the military,” Zeng said.

Xi has radically overhauled the old Soviet-era command structure of the military to make the armed forces nimbler and better able to respond to crises at home and abroad. That has included condensing the command structure and giving greater emphasis on new capabilities including cyberspace, electronic and information warfare.

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China’s military has not fought a war in decades, but faces what the government calls a complex security environment, such as nuclear-armed North Korea and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its own.

Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk and Reuters