At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) had defeated the nationalist Kuomintang. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) then took over full control of the country’s security operations, which included protecting China from foreign invaders, as well as the policing of civilians. This would prove to be a strain on the PLA as well as the citizens of China, so on June 19, 1982 civilian security and national security were divided into two separate units. The CPC dedicated troops from the PLA to begin its domestic police force known as the People’s Armed Police (PAP). The PAP is paramilitary force that answers to the Central military command of the PLA, but focuses primarily on law enforcement.
Although the PAP was separated from the PLA in 1982 they did not have legal authority to act beyond minor police functions without special permission from the PLA. Then in August of 2009, the law of the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) was passed, giving it full control to act internally in response to riots, terror attacks, and other emergencies. Certain duties such as state executions are still controlled by the PLA. While the PAP enforces the law and carries out arrests of local criminals, the PAPF is responsible for the protection of government buildings, senior government officials, and security of major public events.
The PAP and PAPF are broken up into smaller specialized units that report to the PAP national headquarters in Beijing. The PAP is broken up into Special Police Units (SPU), aka Swat, at both provincial and municipal levels. Drug enforcement task forces, anti-piracy, as well as other daily police work makes up these units. The PAPF also has swat units that act at a national level. The Immediate Action Unit (IAU) is the head counter-terrorism unit of the PRC. The Snow Leopard Commando Unit (SLCU) is responsible for counter terrorism assistance , riot control, anti-hijacking, and bomb disposal.
Since the PAP and PAPF have separate missions they also have separate command structures. The Central Military Commission (CMC) commands the PAPF which deals with domestic national security. The State Council commands the law enforcement units of the PAP. The Chinese police structure can be confusing, because although they are separate from the military by law, in reality they are still the same. The PAP is just another branch of the CPC’s military (PLA) with an estimated troop force of 1.5 million.