The People’s Armed Police (PAP) is a paramilitary police force tasked with maintaining law and order, dealing with riots and terrorist attacks, and responding to natural disasters and other emergencies in China. The force is composed of uniformed active-duty servicemen and follows PLA rules and regulations. The PAP is regarded by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as one of the three integral parts of the Armed Forces, along with the PLA and militia/reserve forces.
The main body of the PAP is the Internal Troops (武警内卫部队), with a strength of 660,000 men, or more than half of the PAP’s total manpower. In Chinese official documentations, the term “PAP” is often used explicitly to refer to the Internal Troops. In addition, the PAP provides manpower for the three Public Security (police) branches under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS): Border Defence Troops (公安边防部队), Firefighting Troops (公安消防部队), and Guard Troops (公安警卫部队).
There are also four specialised PAP branches: Forestry Troops (武警森林部队), Gold Mining Troops (武警黄金部队), Transportation Troops (武警交通部队), and Hydropower Troops (武警水电部队), which are non-combat units specialised in economic activities including forest conservation, mining and construction projects.
The PAP was officially created in 1983, but it can trace its lineage back to the Public Security Force (公安部队, PSF) that existed in the history of the PRC between 1950 and 1966. The PSF was originally formed in 1950, and had undergone near-constant mergers and splits with other branches of the PLA and police forces. In July 1966, the PSF was finally disbanded and its troops were absorbed by the PLA.
In 1982, the Chinese leadership decided to transfer the responsibility of internal security from the PLA back to civilian police, in an effort to trim down the military’s roles in the country’s political and social life. Control over the PLA Internal Guards Troops and various other local PLA units assigned to internal security duties were transferred to the Public Security departments. These units were soon combined with three police branches – Border Defence, Armed Police, and Firefighting – to form the new People’s Armed Police.
Over the next two years, as a result of the one-million-man cut in the PLA, three specialised engineering units from the PLA Capital Construction Corps – Gold Mining, Hydropower, and Transportation – were absorbed into the PAP. In 1988, the Armed Forestry Police also joined the PAP. The PAP headquarters, plus specialised bureaus, were created to oversee the operations of the PAP and its specialised branches.
Originally, the PAP was regarded as “a constituent part of the Public Security departments”, but the restructuring of PAP leadership and management in the aftermath of the 1989 incident led to the responsibility of overseeing the PAP’s daily running taken away from the Public Security departments and centralised under the leadership of the Central Military Commission, resulting in the PAP being further integrated into the military.
Throughout the 1990s, the PAP saw some significant expansion in its force size and continuous elevation of its status within the military. In 1995, the PAP Headquarters was promoted to “Military Region Grade” within the military administrative hierarchy – the same level as the Air Force and Navy. In 1996, 14 PLA infantry divisions were transferred to the PAP Internal Troops to become “mobile divisions”. In 1999, the previously shared responsibility of managing the four specialised branches of the PAP was taken away from the government departments and centralised under the sole leadership of the PAP headquarters.
Command and Control
The PAP has been placed under a command and control system of joint government-military leadership, which was described in official PRC writings as “unified leadership and management, with command divided by levels”. “Unified leadership and management” refers to the fact that the PAP is under the joint leadership of the CMC and the State Council. The budget of the PAP is funded by the central and local governments, not the defence budget. The control over the force’s personnel affairs, political education, and training lies with the CMC, and the force follows PLA rules and regulations.
“Divided command” gives the local Public Security departments the authority to mobilise the PAP within their jurisdictions in the event of emergencies. In order to streamline the PAP’s command and control, the Minister of Public Security is concurrently appointed as the First Political Commissar of the PAP. Local public security department chiefs are also appointed as the First Commissars of the local PAP Internal Troops.
It appears that the extraordinary bureaucracy and political complexity in the system of “joint government-military leadership” has created a great deal of ambiguity in the control over the PAP in its operations. As a result, personal relationships among individual local Party secretaries, PAP and PLA commanders, and local Public Security chiefs have become crucial in determining how the PAP will respond in a crisis.
Internal Security Roles
The PAP is responsible for providing armed protections and safeguarding for a wide range of targets, including senior Party and government officials, key Party and government establishments, important public events, prisons and detention centres, foreign embassies and consulates, international airports and seaports, key bridges and tunnels on roads and railway lines, state-owned TV and radio stations, communications hubs, strategic depots, and key industrial facilities.
The PAP also provides assistance for the Public Security (police) and other law enforcement departments of the PRC in maintaining state security and social stability. This includes pursuing and arresting criminals, escorting convicts and prisoners, providing executioners, carrying out armed patrols in key areas of metropolitans and large cities, dealing with riots and uprisings, and fighting serious crimes and terrorism activities. The PAP played a key role in suppressing the ethnic minority secessionism uprisings in Tibet in 2008, and in Xiniiang in 2009.
In 2004, a team of six PAP servicemen from the Internal Troops of Beijing was sent to Bagdad in Iraq to provide protection for Chinese diplomats. This was the first time that PAP troops were deployed to a foreign country. In 2006, a second diplomat protection team was deployed to Kabul in Afghanistan. During the Beijing Olympic torch relay in 2008, a group of 30 PAP servicemen from the Special Police Academy were sent to London, Paris and other cities to escort the torch and stop protestors disrupting the relay.
The PAP Internal Troops are deployed across the country based on geographic locations. Each provincial-level entity (provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities) has an Armed Police General Corps (武警总队, APGC). Each prefectural-level entity (cities and prefectures) has an Armed Police Detachment (武警支队, APD). Each county-level entity (county, league, and town) has an Armed Police Group (武警大队, APG) or Armed Police Squadron (武警中队, APS). There are also 14 Armed Police Mobile Divisions (武警机动师, APMD), which are lightly-armed infantry units similar to the PLA in equipment and training.
The Beijing APGC (武警北京总队) is the largest and one of the best equipped general corps of the PAP, with a strength of over 30,000 troops. The unit is responsible for maintaining the security and social order in the Chinese capital Beijing. The Beijing APGC was formed in 1983 by transferring the 2nd Guard Division of the PLA Beijing Garrison District to the PAP. Following the 1989 Tiananmen incident, the 2nd Beijing APGC was formed by transferring the 4th Guard Division of the Beijing Garrison District to the PAP. The two general corpses were merged into a single bigger Beijing APGC in 1999, and the general corps was promoted to a “Corps Grade” (正军级) unit in 2008.
The Beijing APGC is composed of three division-sized units (1st, 2nd and 3rd Division) and two brigade-sized (9th and 13th APD). The 9th APD is specifically responsible for guarding all foreign embassies and other diplomatic organisations in Beijing. The 13th APD (also known as “Snow Leopard Commando”) is an elite special weapon and tactic (SWAT) unit, responsible for dealing with high-profile missions such as counter-terrorism, anti-hijacking, and dealing with abrupt protests and riots.
The Xinjiang APGC plays in a key role in maintaining security and fighting the secessionism movement in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Xinjiang APGC has two regional command headquarters – PAP Southern Xinjiang Command Headquarters (武警南疆指挥部) and PAP Production & Construction Corps Command Headquarters (武警生产建设兵团指挥部). In time of crisis, the general corps could also be reinforced by the 7th Armed Police Mobile Division stationed at Yili, Xinjiang.
Armed Police Mobile Divisions (APMD) were created from the 14 infantry divisions transferred from the PLA to the PAP in 1996. These units retained more military characteristics, including an organisational structure along military lines, with regiments, battalions and companies, instead of APD, APG, and APS found in ordinary PAP units. As well as standard issue individual weapons, mobile divisions are also equipped with some infantry support weapons such as mortars and light anti-tank guns. These units serve as strategic reserve for the PAP Headquarters, intended to be deployed anywhere within the country if required.
The PAP also maintains various tactical counterterrorism (CT) and special police units, specially trained and equipped to carry out high-risk missions such as hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, engaging heavily-armed criminals, and dealing with mass protests and riots. The PAP Special Police College (武警特警学院) is a national counter-terrorism and anti-hijacking unit that combines both combat and education functions. The 3rd APG of the 13th APD of the Beijing APGC, also known as “Snow Leopard Commando”, is a 300-men commando unit with four specialised squadrons for counter-terrorism, bomb disposal, chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) safety, and sniper fire roles.
The PAP Internal Troops are equipped with standard-issue military weapons including the Type 81 and Type 95 assault rifle, Type 79 submachine gun, Type 56 and 81 light machine gun, Type 79 and Type 88 sniper rifle, and Type 69 rocket-propelled grenade launcher. For law enforcement and anti-riot missions, the troops are also allocated with standard police equipment such as batons, riot shields, and body armours. Some APMDs also retained some infantry support weapons including 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns, 82mm recoilless guns and 82mm mortars.
PAP servicemen wear the olive-green PAP uniform in peacetime, and the digital camouflage or black combat uniform during training and operations. For transportation, the PAP troops are equipped with various trucks and other motor vehicles, and have to rely on railway or military aircraft for long-distance travelling. Some PAP units are equipped with small numbers of wheeled and tracked armoured personnel carriers (APC) and specially-modified anti-riot vehicles, as well as helicopters.
Last updated: 1 January 2017