Updated: Jan 24, 2021
The People's Armed Police Force (PAP) serves as one of the People's Republic of China's (PRC) main internal security organizations. Tasked with a variety of domestic order, counter-terror, disaster response, law enforcement, and maritime security missions, this organization has repeatedly worked alongside the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and as such, is a key component of the PRC's national security apparatus.
In 2017, the People's Armed Police Force was the target of sweeping reforms aimed at increasing the effectiveness and professionalism of the organization's rank-and-file. Simultaneously, policymakers in Beijing wrestled control of the PAP from provincial leaders and placed authority for the organization solely in the hands of the central government. Although the PAP continues to be responsible for a variety of internal security assignments and the execution of counter-terror, disaster response, law enforcement, and maritime security missions, these reforms greatly altered the organization's overall structure and chain of command.
To effectively carry out its plethora of taskings, the PAP is divided into three main branches: the Internal Security Force (ISF), Mobile Contingents (MC), and China Coast Guard Bureau (CCGB).
Internal Security Force
The People's Armed Police Force Internal Security Force is responsible for maintaining internal order, supporting civil authorities during disaster relief operations, and providing security for government facilities. The Intelligence Ledger assesses ISF units to be roughly equivalent in size to regiments of the People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), with nearly 1,000 to 2,000 men per formation.
According to the Department of Defense, Defense Intelligence Agency, and International Institute for Strategic Studies, the ISF maintains 32 regional commands spanning each of the PRC's autonomous regions, metropolitan areas, and provinces. Information acquired by The Intelligence Ledger indicates that each command maintains at least one ISF formation. Important regions and cities, such as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Beijing, have been assigned multiple ISF detachments by the Central Military Commission (CMC).
Mobile contingents of the People's Armed Police Force offer a wide variety of capabilities for Beijing to utilize in times of local, provincial, and national emergencies. Mobile contingents are composed of versatile units, including two-to-three special mission detachments, an engineering and CBRN group, and at least one helicopter contingent. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, mobile contingents have been increasingly viewed with a high degree of importance by the Central Military Commission, as these units are, "corps leader grade commands within the PAP’s 15-level organizational hierarchy, one step higher than all of the provincial contingents other than Xinjiang and Beijing."
In the event of mass civil unrest or a major conflict, mobile contingents would be used in security and support roles. For example, the 1st Mobile Contingent based in Shijiazhuang and Hebei, both locations near Beijing, would be well situated to secure the capital in times of emergency. Another detachment, the 2nd Mobile Contingent, is spread out across multiple provinces on the southeast coast, including Fuzhou. In the event of a conflict with the Republic of Taiwan (ROC), this element would play a key role in security operations for PLA logistics.
China Coast Guard Bureau
The China Coast Guard Bureau, which previously reported to civilian agencies, has been placed within the PAP and is thus now part of the military command structure. Due to complexities and in Chinese law, The Intelligence Ledger has been unable to fully analyze the new role of the organization in both civilian law enforcement and military operations. For more on the CCGB, click here.
Prior to the creation of the People's Armed Police Force, the PRC relied upon a variety of internal security organizations for stability. Constant change and political upheaval resulted in an extremely ineffective security apparatus. In order to combat this, Deng Xiaoping established the PAP in 1982.
During the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989, PAP units played a minor role in internal order operations. The lack of proper command and control (C2) architecture, funding, and overall organizational weakness forced the central government to utilize the PLA to quell the protests. As has been well documented by western sources and Chinese defectors, the PLA did not end the situation peacefully.