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Chinese companies are training their own military units: what it means for national security | World News

Chinese companies are training their own military units: what it means for national security |  World News


Chinese companies are reviving a practice not seen since the 1970s by creating their own volunteer armies, known as Departments of the People's Armed Forces. This decision by Chinese companies, a “legacy of the Mao Zedong era”, reflects Beijing's growing concerns over social unrest And foreign threats.
Driving the news

  • At least 16 major Chinese companies, including a private dairy giant, have set up combat forces over the past year, according to a CNN analysis of state media.
  • These units, known as Departments of the Popular Armed Forces (PAFD), are made up of civilians who maintain their regular jobs. They act as a reserve and auxiliary force for China's military, the world's largest, and are available for missions ranging from responding to natural disasters to maintaining social order to wartime support.
  • These forces, which do not currently operate outside China, have more in common with the US National Guard than its militia movement, which refers to private paramilitary organizations generally focused on right-wing politics.

Why is this important

  • The creation of business brigades highlights Beijing's growing concerns about potential conflict abroad as well as social unrest at home as the economy stumbles, analysts say.
  • The revival is also seen as part of Chinese leadership Xi JinpingThe Communist Party's efforts to strengthen its control over society, including the business sector.
  • The return of business militias reflects Xi's growing focus on the need to better integrate economic development with national security, as the country faces a tougher future of slower growth and increasing geopolitical competition, said Neil Thomas, a Chinese politics researcher at the Asia Society Policy Institutes. China Analysis Center.
  • Military-led corporate militias could help the Communist Party more effectively quell incidents of social unrest such as consumer protests and employee strikes, he said.

The big picture

  • After Covid restrictions ended in early 2023, the Chinese economy has not seen a strong recovery.
  • China's economy grew 5.2% in 2023, slightly above the official target set by Beijing. But the country faces myriad challenges, including a record housing downturn, rising youth unemployment, deflationary pressures, rising corporate defaults and growing financial stress in local governments.
  • The protests appear to be spreading as frustration grows. The number of labor strikes and protests soared to 1,794 in 2023, more than double from 2022, when 830 cases were recorded, according to data from China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit. who monitors worker protests.
  • Just over a year ago, protesters clashed with police at the world's largest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, as anger mounted against Foxconn for backing away from promises to raise wages and salaries. benefits to attract workers after the pandemic.
  • Additionally, China faces growing geopolitical challenges, including deteriorating relations with the United States, President Xi's support for Vladimir Putin and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the growing military presence of countries near Taiwan and in the South China Sea.

All about PAFDs

  • Most of the companies that have so far announced the creation of militias are state-owned enterprises (SOEs), directly owned by central or regional governments.
  • But in December, Yili Group, the world's fifth-largest dairy producer, became the first major privately-owned Chinese company in recent history to establish a unit of the People's Armed Forces Department.
  • He provided no details on the strength of the force or the demographics of the employees who enlisted. According to China's military service law, male militia members must be between 18 and 35 years old. There is some flexibility for people with particular skills. Women can also join, although the law does not provide for any age conditions.
  • Yilis' unit will be under the direct leadership of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Inner Mongolia, the region where the company is based, and the regional government's Communist Party committee.
  • The unit was established to build a national defense force based in Yili, capable of serving in peacetime, dealing with emergencies and responding in wartime, said Huang Zhiqiang, executive vice president of the Yili group, in a press release.
  • According to a Financial Times report, the Shanghai Municipal Investment Group, affiliated with the local government, established a Party and Armed Forces Department (PAFD) in September, following the example set by Mengniu, a major dairy competitor of Yili backed by the state.
  • Last year, several other entities also announced the creation of PAFDs. These include Wuhan Urban Construction Investment & Development Group, PowerChina Equipment Group and Wuhan Metro. Additionally, in Guangdong Province, Huizhou Water and Huizhou Transport Investment Group, as well as Haian Urban Construction Development Investment Group in Jiangsu Province, have established their own PAFDs.

What they say

  • A PAFD member from China's eastern Zhejiang province, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the FT that his group mainly focuses on military training and recruitment initiatives, and occasionally conducts educational programs of a nature military in schools.
  • According to a report by Xinhua, China's official news agency, Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, announced in October that the creation of PAFDs within state-owned enterprises was necessary to “fulfill national defense obligations.” and strengthen the construction of national defense.” “.
  • According to the FT report, Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, described the creation of PAFD in various locations as indicative of leaders' anxiety about internal social stability. He said: “The activation of these PAFD units is a symptom of the leadership's concern about the national social stability situation, adding: Because this is happening in so many places at the same time, it is almost certainly directed from top to bottom.
  • James Char, a China specialist at Singapore's S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, linked the renewed focus on PAFD to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prioritizing “security” over “development” .
  • Timothy Heath of the RAND Corporation told the FT that the emergence of PAFDs was “really surprising”.

The essential
China's industrial militias are a sign of the times, as the country faces growing uncertainty and challenges domestically and internationally. They also reflect the growing influence and reach of the Communist Party and the military into all aspects of Chinese society.
(With contribution from agencies)




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