December 27, 2017 / 10:56 AM / 20 days ago

China to bring paramilitary police force under military's wing

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will bring its paramilitary police force, the People’s Armed Police, under the control of the Central Military Commission which controls the country’s armed forces from Jan. 1, state media said on Wednesday.

Since taking power five years ago, President Xi Jinping has overseen a sweeping modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest military, laying off troops, streamlining its organisation and investing in advanced weapons.

In a brief report, the official Xinhua news agency said that from midnight on Jan. 1 the People’s Armed Police would no longer fall under the purview of the State Council, or cabinet, and instead report to the Central Military Commission.

Xi heads the Central Military Commission in his role as armed forces chief and commander in chief. Xi has steadily consolidated his power over the military, and has appointed allies to key positions of power in the armed forces.

Xinhua did not provide any details on how the new reporting structure would work or why the government had made the decision.

However, the party’s official People’s Daily, in a commentary for publication on Thursday but reported by Xinhua on Wednesday, said the move was needed to ensure security and promote the aim of having a “strong military”.

The People’s Armed Police will remain separate, carry out its existing functions and not be absorbed into the People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Daily said.

The paramilitary police force serves as a backup for the military in times of war, and domestically has a role in putting down protests and counter-terrorism as well as border defence and fire-fighting.

Xi has radically overhauled the old Soviet-era command structure of the military to make the armed forces nimbler and better able to respond to crises at home and abroad.

That has included condensing the command structure and giving greater emphasis on new capabilities including cyberspace, electronic and information warfare.

China’s military has not fought a war in decades, but faces what the government calls a complex security environment, such as nuclear-armed North Korea and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its own.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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