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China: New Law on People’s Armed Police Passed

(Sept. 3, 2009) On August 27, 2009, the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress passed the Law on the People's Armed Police, in seven chapters comprising 38 articles. It was promulgated and in force on that same date. The chapters cover general provisions, tasks and official duties, obligations and rights, safeguards, supervision and inspection, legal liability, and supplementary provisions. The paramilitary force was formally established in 1982, although its roots go farther back in the history of the People's Republic of China, and now has an estimated 680,000 troops, who serve as “border guards, security guards for government officials, firefighters and relief workers during disasters but who are best known outside China for their role in suppressing political and social unrest.” (Michael Wines, China Approves Law Governing Armed Police Force, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Aug. 27, 2009, available at; Ng Tze-wei, Role of Armed Police Clarified New Law Spells Out the Duties of Special Force, SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, Aug 28, 2009, at 4, available at LEXIS/NEXIS Library Express Database.)

By more clearly stipulating how and when the armed police may be mobilized and deployed, the Law addresses some of the concerns expressed by critics of the force's slow response to recent riots in Xinjiang. (Wines, supra.) Passage of the law also reflects the government's increased concern about stability in general, in anticipation of the sixtieth anniversary on October 1 of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Two days before the law was adopted, President Hu Jintao told a gathering of soldiers and armed police, “[y]ou should make upholding social stability the most urgent task and maintain great strength to ensure triumph in the struggle to maintain stability in Xinjiang.” (Hu Pushes for 'Harmonious' Xinjiang, SHANGHAI DAILY, Aug. 26, 2009, available at
; Sky Canaves, Beijing Widens Paramilitary Police Role, THEWALL STREET JOURNAL, Aug. 28, 2009, available at

The Law stipulates that the people's armed police force is to be led jointly by the State Council and the Central Military Commission (CMC) (of the Chinese Communist Party, the highest military organ in charge of directing all the country's armed forces; the state CMC has the same 11 members), by means of an integrated system of unified leadership with different levels of command. Unlike the first draft considered in April 2009, the final draft includes a provision stating that mobilization and deployment of the armed police must follow approval authority and procedures determined by the two bodies. (Ng, supra.) The Law emphasizes that “no unit or individual can mobilize or deploy the people's armed police force in violation of provisions.” In cases of mobilization or deployment of people's armed police forces in contravention of the provisions, the people's armed police forces should refuse to execute the commands and also immediately report the action to a higher level (art. 8). (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Renmin wuzhuang jingcha fa [Law of the PRC on the People's Armed Police] [in Chinese], LEGAL DAILY, Aug. 28, 2009, available at

Mainland analysts are reported as indicating that “[a]lthough the protocol is not new, it now underlines the central government's determination to keep deployment of the PAP closely in its hands,” and out of the hands of county-level governments, who will no longer be authorized to mobilize or deploy the armed police. (Ng, supra.) According to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, “[t]he change is an apparent bid to prevent small protests from escalating into confrontations between villagers and paramilitary forces, whose presence would sometimes inflame tensions.” (Canaves, supra.) In the view of Professor Wang Yukai of China's National School of Administration, removing local officials' authority to call up the armed police was “perhaps the most important provision of the new legislation.” He stated, “[t]his is to prevent the misuse of the armed police by local governments, to prevent the deaths of innocent people.” (Wines, supra.)

The security and defense-related tasks of the armed police include:

1) armed guarding of state-stipulated objects, targets, and major activities;

2) armed defense of critical sites of key public facilities, enterprises, warehouses, water sources, irrigation works, electric power facilities, and communications hubs;

3) armed defense of bridges and roads in critical positions of principal communications arteries;

4) peripheral guarding of prisons and detention centers;

5) armed patrol of municipalities under the direct control of the central government and of the seats of provincial and autonomous region people's governments, as well as of key regions of other major cities during special periods;

6) assisting public security organs, state security organs, judicial administrative organs, procuratorial organs, and adjudicative organs carry out tasks of arrest, pursuit and capture, deportation under escort, and escort according to law, and assisting other related agencies to carry out significant escort duties;

7) participating in handling rebellions, riots, serious violent criminal incidents, terrorist attacks, and other social safety-related incidents; and

8) other security protection tasks entrusted to them by the state (art. 7).

The Law also imposes certain limits on the powers of armed police troops. It prohibits the armed police from illegally stripping or restricting other persons' personal freedom; illegally searching the person, goods, means of communication, residence, or premises of other persons; covering up or conniving at illegal criminal activities; disclosing state secrets or military secrets; or committing other acts that violate the law or violate discipline (art. 19). (Law of the PRC on the People's Armed Police, supra; Top Legislature Passes Armed Police Law, CHINA DAILY, Aug. 27, 2009, available at