China’s Security Apparatus

Chinese Tactics > PART ONE: People’s Liberation Army Forces > Chapter 2: People’s Liberation Army Force Structure > China’s Security Apparatus

2-1. The PLA represents the armed forces branch of China’s security organizations. Other organizations under this umbrella include the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the People’s Armed Police (PAP), and the China Militia. These organizations are collectively referred to as the Chinese Security Apparatus. The Chinese Security Apparatus is not fully analogous to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD): it is more of a descriptive term than a discrete organization. All Security Apparatus organizations fall under the purview of the CPC, and their missions often overlap with one another. One of the defining elements of Chinese internal politics is the complex interplay between these organizations and their leadership. In most cases, the PLA can be thought of as the most important and most influential member of the Chinese Security Apparatus. 

2-2. Forces making up each organization in the Chinese Security Apparatus can be described as either civilian, paramilitary, or military. The composition of each organization varies significantly. Police, security, and some intelligence forces are described as civilian; the MPS and MSS are comprised mostly of these personnel. The PAP and the China Militia are largely paramilitary: they conduct military-like training and employ some military equipment and tactics, but they are not considered part of the PLA. 

2-3. The MPS is China’s national police force and the world’s largest police organization. Though a national-level force, it is organized and commanded locally, typically by provincial governments. It is responsible for day-to-day law enforcement throughout China, and it is directly reportable to China’s State Council. The MSS is China’s primary national intelligence apparatus, having responsibility for both foreign and domestic intelligence work and counterintelligence. The MSS’s counterintelligence mission requires a fairly significant “secret police” element that does not work with the MPS. The PLA generally does not integrate activities with either the MPS or the MSS, except when intelligence or security information is exchanged. The roles and responsibility of the MSS are in transition, as a new high-level command—the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF)—was recently established and appears to overlap numerous responsibilities with the MSS. 

2-4. The Chinese Armed Forces consist of the PLA, the PAP, and the China Militia. The PLA’s primary role within the Chinese Armed Forces is to defend China from external or international threats, while the PAP focuses on internal threats. The PAP’s mission is internal security and, in conjunction with the MPS, limited law enforcement. The PAP also has the official mission to support or reinforce the PLA during times of war. PAP forces are organized on a provincial basis, with two national-level antiterrorism units stationed in the capital region. The PAP features military-like organizations and extensive use of military equipment, including small arms, helicopters, and light armored vehicles. The U.S. does not have an equivalent organization.

2-5. The China Militia is a massive quasi-formal militia element of the Chinese Armed Forces, consisting mostly of poorly trained and equipped part-time regional military units. The militia’s primary mission is to provide logistics and security support to the PLA, though disaster relief and internal security missions are also part of its mission set. The China Militia is a different entity from the People’s Liberation Army Reserve. The militia can be can be considered an aspect of People’s War philosophy, to be integrated with the military and other entities in times of national emergency or crisis. Like the rest of the Chinese Armed Forces, it is being downsized and modernized, with less emphasis put on manpower and more emphasis on quality training and equipment. Like the PAP, there is not a true U.S. equivalent to the China Militia.

2-6. The PLA is the armed forces of China. Though called an army, the PLA is analogous to the U.S. DOD in that it consists of all of the service branches: an army (People’s Liberation Army Army—PLAA), navy (People’s Liberation Army Navy—PLAN), air force (People’s Liberation Army Air Force—PLAAF), rocket force (People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force—PLARF), and strategic support force (PLASSF). In addition, the People’s Liberation Army Joint Logistics Support Force (PLAJLSF), though not a service, is a national-level PLA organization. The PLA is under the command of the Central Military Commission (CMC), as supervised by the Politburo Standing Committee and the CPC. The PLA is officially the armed wing of the CPC; all levels of the PLA are supervised by a system of political officers. The expressed primary missions of the PLA are to protect the ruling status of the CPC, ensure China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, safeguard Chinese interests at home and abroad, and help maintain global stability. (See figure 2-1 on page 2-3 for a simplified diagram of the PLA’s command structure.)

2-7. The PLAA is China’s land combat service. It consists of an active-duty component and a reserve component, organized in roughly the same way as the U.S. Army’s active and reserve components. The PLAA’s active force consists of roughly one million soldiers, and it remains the dominant service within the PLA, despite recent efforts to reduce its influence. The reserve component consists of roughly 500,000 soldiers and, despite being a national-level organization, it is relatively poorly trained and equipped— though it is a significant improvement over the China Militia. In times of war, the reserve component will likely take over rear area, security, and sustainment duties in order to free up higher-quality active duty forces for more rigorous missions. The PLAA recognizes branches in much the same way the U.S. Army does. PLAA branches are—

  • Infantry (including mechanized, motorized, and mountain).
  • Armored.
  • Artillery (including towed and self-propelled tube artillery, rocket artillery, antitank missiles and guns).
  • Air defense (including short- and medium-range mobile gun and missile systems—heavier missile systems are operated by the PLAAF).
  • Aviation (including helicopters and limited fixed-wing aircraft).
  • Engineer. z Chemical defense.
  • Communications.
  • Electronic warfare (EW).
  • Logistics.
  • Armaments (maintenance).
  • Special operations forces (SOF).


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