China’s armed police will come under new control from next week.
The Chinese State Council and governments on regional levels will no longer have the capacity to marshal the nation’s 1.5 million-strong force from 2018, according to a document released on Thursday by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
Overall command will be transferred to the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and the Central Military Commission.
“The constitution stipulates that the Central Military Commission commands armed forces in the country,” a commentary in the People’s Daily said, according to Xinhua. The article in the party’s flagship paper noted that the armed police had always been part of the country’s armed forces.
“The move will enhance the Party’s absolute command of the armed forces and is key to effectively solving the systematic barriers and major problems faced by the armed police,” it said.
The scrapping of a dual command structure is the essence of party chief Xi Jinping’s aggressive military reform to cement the party’s absolute grip on not only the People’s Liberation Army and all other military and paramilitary forces, Xinhua said.
The Chinese premier, regional party chiefs and heads of provincial, municipal and county governments used to have the power to deploy armed police to maintain social order, tackle riots, protests, terrorism and assist in disaster relief. Provincial officials did not need to secure Beijing’s approval if they marshaled armed police within their own province.
Local officials in charge of public security bodies were usually ex-officio political commissars of the local armed police units, to ensure command and control.
A commentator told the Chinese news portal NetEase that local officials can still seek assistance from the military police in their region, but a decision on whether or not the request would be approved was now entirely up to the armed police unit concerned, and endorsement was needed from the Central Military Commission for any large deployment beyond provincial borders.
Given that the PLA is at the party’s beck and call, the party’s central leadership, the State Council and local officials have been wrestling for control of the armed police for decades.
By integrating the paramilitary unit into the party’s top military echelons and leaving only civil police under local government control, Xi has reinforced the party’s – and effectively his own – power and prerogative, as observers have pointed out.
Meanwhile, the armed police are still tasked with maintaining internal security for major events and gatherings, patrolling government premises, key venues and facilities such as mines and infrastructure, plus emergency response activity like fire rescues, border control and disaster relief. In wartime, the force can act as a light infantry supporting the PLA.
After numerous name changes and reorganization, the armed police were created in 1982 by a massive amalgamation of the PLA’s non-combat and non-defense units in a bid to streamline and professionalize the apparatus and absorb demobilized military personnel.