Special Operations: Chinese Commandos Rule


May 28, 2014: At the recent sixth annual Warrior Competition the Snow Leopards unit of the Chinese national police won first place. Another Chinese police commando unit won second place and a third Chinese unit won fourth place. The team from Jordan won third. This is the second year the Snow Leopards won first. The Warrior Competition is held each year in Jordan, where one of the best equipped and heavily used special operations training centers operates. The competition provides a good idea of whose commandos are the most skilled.

However some of the best American, Russian and other special operations units did not compete because they are out working. This has been common for as long as the competition has been held. Even so, the Chinese faced stiff competition and acquitted themselves well. This demonstrates how well Chinese military units can do with good leadership and sufficient money for the best equipment and lots of training.

Not everyone in the Chinese military gets this treatment, but a growing number of units do. The Snow Leopards are one several commando units in the national police and are based in Beijing. Two of the four squadrons of the Snow Leopards specialize in commando operations (like hostage rescue or difficult raids), while another handles bomb disposal and exotic (nuclear, biological, complex bombs) weapons and the other squadron specializes in snipers. The Snow Leopards were formed in 2002 and trained for five years before going to work. There are several similar units in other parts of China. In general, these police commando units do not reveal much about themselves. Much is known about the Snow Leopards because they were the first and being in the capital are something of a showcase unit for Chinese special operations in general.

The Snow Leopards are, like many commando units, small (under 500 personnel) and very selective. The Snow Leopards are mainly a counter terrorism unit, of which there are several in the national police (called the PAP or People's Armed Police). In China, the line between the armed forces and the police is sometimes blurred, especially when it comes to paramilitary outfits like the PAP.

The 660,000 personnel of the PAP exist to take care of emergencies and they tend to be kept busy with the thousands of demonstrations held each year. Many of these are without a permit and involve a lot of angry Chinese.  Technically, the PAP is an armed force that undertakes public security duties as well as the enforcement of law and order within the country. In practice it's not that simple. While there are about 1.4 million local police, for emergencies (a frequent event in Tibet and Xinjiang) you call the PAP. This paramilitary force will quickly smother the unrest but it won't solve the underlying problems.

The history of the PAP is a confusing one. The PAPs ancestor was the Peoples Public Security Force, established in 1949 after the creation of the communist government in China. However, it was disbanded during the Cultural Revolution (1960s) and its duties transferred to the PLA (People's Liberation Army or "the army"). After the Cultural Revolution the government decided that the PLAs primary duties should be the national defense of the country. So frontier police units were moved to the Ministry of Public Security, the same ministry that oversees the civilian Chinese police.

The People's Armed Police were created in 1982. In fact, a lot of demobilized PLA troops have been incorporated into the PAP since its creation. The PAP is rigidly organized, like most of Communist China's military and police organizations, with a national headquarters in Beijing and local headquarters in every province of the country. Another confusing aspect of the PAP is that it is under the authority of two different bodies; the Central Military Commission and the Ministry of Public Security, which also manages the regular police forces. Within the PAP, a number of different types of units exist each with their own distinct missions, some of them military oriented and some law enforcement-oriented. These units are internal defense units, frontier defense units, fire brigade units, mobilized divisions, commandos, and forest police units.

The internal defense units are basically light infantry units designed to suppress internal threats with force. This would mean anything from putting down demonstrations to fighting armed guerrillas or terrorists. They also guard government buildings and other key facilities throughout the country. The frontier defense troops are also basically light infantry trained along military lines. However, instead of protecting against internal threats, these forces are basically a first line of border defense against attack by a foreign enemy and against other border violations. They also serve an important law enforcement role as they are the equivalent of the American Border Patrol and are involved in seizing cross-border narcotics shipments and other contraband.

PAP units stationed in Beijing are there to protect the central government bureaucracy. Mobile PAP units are organized as mechanized infantry and have been formed in response to the growing threats of rebellion in the Xinjiang province and Tibet. Ethnic minority separatism has long been a problem in China and the Chinese government is determined to keep a lid on it. The Special Police Units are sort of a cross between police SWAT teams and DELTA Force commandos. They are in charge of both counter-terrorism and riot control. Thus, the PAP is, in reality, both a national police force and an extra military ground force to be used for the country's defense.



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