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Politics

Xi gains control of China's paramilitary police

Further consolidation of power seen as hedge against a coup

Chinese President Xi Jinping during his inspection of troops at the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison on June 30.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- President Xi Jinping continues to strengthen his grip on power as China's absolute leader, putting the country's armed police force under his thumb in his latest move.

The Communist Party of China has decided to consolidate control over the People's Armed Police at the Central Military Commission, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Wednesday.

The paramilitary force's responsibilities span from guarding key facilities and fighting terrorism to controlling crowds and suppressing riots. It has traditionally taken orders from both the State Council, or cabinet, and the military commission, but after Jan. 1, it will answer only to the latter, which is headed by the president.

Considered a second military force, the armed police are treated similarly to soldiers, but the force is clearly separate from the People's Liberation Army. The paramilitary force is said to have 700,000 to 800,000 personnel.

Experts believe the consolidation of oversight at the military commission is aimed at preventing any possibility of the police force being used to stage a coup. It has been suggested that Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, plotted to carry out a coup against the Xi administration by teaming up with Bo Xilai, a former Communist Party secretary of Chongqing who once was the president's major rival. Zhou had a strong influence over the paramilitary force.

The People's Daily, the party's official paper, emphasized in its online edition that the decision to centralize control of the paramilitary force marks a crucial shift promoting the long-term stability of the party and the nation and that ensuring the country's political security is one of the intended objectives. The army and the military police will remain separate organizations, according to the daily. While the People's Liberation Army has been working to shed 300,000 soldiers, the retrenchment program won't affect paramilitary force personnel, and the police's duties will remain unchanged, the People's Daily added.

More details may be parceled out in the coming days before the new system takes effect Jan. 1. Some party officials revealed that there have been discussions about separating the fire-fighting unit of the paramilitary force and putting it under the State Council's control.

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