China’s paramilitary police force will soon be commanded by the Chinese Communist Party’s armed forces, a report said Wednesday, the latest sign of the leadership’s resolve to centralise power.
The move puts the force, which maintains domestic security, squarely under the command of President Xi Jinping, who is also head of the military.
The 660,000-strong force is responsible for border patrol, counter terrorism and fire-fighting, as well as maintaining domestic stability and other tasks.
It is currently under the dual leadership of the government’s cabinet, the State Council, and the party’s Central Military Commission.
By contrast, and unlike most countries, China’s armed forces are permanently under the control of its ruling political party, the CCP, rather than the state.
“From Jan. 1, 2018 … the armed police will be a division under the Central Military Commission only,” the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a Central Committee statement.
The report did not give a reason for the command structure change.
But a commentary in party mouthpiece People’s Daily said it was a “major innovation” that “strengthens the party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces … and ensures the long-term peace and stability of the party and the country”.
The strongest leader in a generation, Xi has sought to strengthen the party’s control over all aspects of Chinese society.
Since coming to power in 2012, he has presided over sweeping reforms intended to transform the country’s military from a musty Soviet-era relic into a modern fighting force.
The changes have included the replacement of top military brass with Xi loyalists.
Analysts said the latest consolidation could have arisen from anxiety over the potential use of the police force to stage a coup.
In October, senior party official Liu Shiyu congratulated Xi for foiling efforts of powerful officials who “plotted to usurp the party’s leadership and seize state power.”
Liu listed former security czar Zhou Yongkang and former Chongqing party chiefs Bo Xilai and Sun Zhengcai as members of the conspiracy, which was rumoured to have involved military officials.
All three have been ousted from the CCP and arrested or jailed on corruption charges.
“Strengthening the party’s leadership of both the army and the armed police could reflect (worries) about the armed police becoming a tool for individual conspiracy,” political scholar Hu Xingdou told AFP.
The announcement followed the first meeting this week of the 205-member Central Committee after a once-in-ten-years meeting of the CCP in November bolstered the party’s power.