"China Needs Its Army to Stamp Out Domestic Unrest."
No. That's the job of the People's Armed Police. While the world watched in horror as armored personnel carriers and camouflaged soldiers suppressed riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in 2008 and Uighur-dominated Urumqi in 2009, many assumed it was the Chinese army marching in the streets behind Plexiglas shields. But they were mistaken. A careful look at their insignia revealed that the units were part of the People's Armed Police, not the PLA.
The People's Armed Police is a paramilitary force with a wide range of responsibilities for public security. After June 1989, when the PLA was called upon to mobilize its tanks and clear protesters from Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the military sought guarantees from the Chinese leadership that it would no longer be tasked with suppressing domestic "incidents" that it was neither trained nor equipped to handle. The People's Armed Police was then given this specific job as well as significant increases in resources, personnel, and specialized training.
It is subject to many of the same military laws and regulations issued by the central government as its PLA counterpart. However, much of the armed police is under the command of the Public Security Ministry -- China's civilian police force -- and its bureaus, the largest unit of which is responsible for ensuring "internal security," including crowd control and riot response. When domestic disturbances arise, the armed police is called out to control crowds and put down riots, not the PLA. While China's 2008 defense white paper claims that 260,000 armed police are on daily guard duty, other official sources claim a total force of 660,000 officers. And though the armed police is tasked primarily with domestic security, it is also expected to support the PLA in a time of war.
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