China Security Memo: The People's Armed Police and Crackdown in Inner Mongolia

10 MINS READJun 1, 2011 | 08:54 GMT

The Crackdown in Inner Mongolia

Security forces quickly shut down a protest by ethnic Mongolians on May 30 in Hohhot, the capital of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The small demonstration, which focused on the deaths of two ethnic Mongolian herders earlier in the month, was preceded by protests May 23-28 across the prefecture-level administrative area of Xilin Gol Meng. It is too early to tell if ethnic tensions have been quelled, but thus far, the regional government's plan to disrupt and placate potential protesters has been successful. A careful examination of the development of protest and counter-protest tactics in Inner Mongolia shows the evolution of China's ability to deal with unrest and underlines the difficulty of dissent in China. Disputes between local populations and resource extraction or property development companies are common in any developing area, particularly in China. Because new property developments can fuel local corruption, disputes over them often result in local protests or conflicts — and even deaths, as was the case with Qian Yunhui in Zhejiang province on Dec. 25, 2010. However, even similar disputes in Inner Mongolia failed to result in significant protests. The situation of the past two weeks resulted from the combination of long-simmering tensions between ethnic Mongolians and their perceived aggressors, the Han Chinese, and the protesters' deaths, a common spark for unrest. Chinese security forces from the Public Security Bureau, traditional police and the People's Armed Police (PAP), a paramilitary unit mainly used to control unrest, quickly responded to protests that began May 23 in Xiwu Qi (the Chinese name for West Ujimqin Banner), outnumbering the demonstrators. However, on May 25, more than 1,000 students demonstrated in Xilinhot, the nearest city to the grassland and coal mine areas where the protests occurred. By May 27, Chinese authorities had closed schools in many towns across Xilin Gol Meng, and the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), a New York-based advocacy group for Inner Mongolians, reports similar actions taken in Tongliao and Chifeng. Closing schools effectively keeps students in their dormitories, making security guards and teachers responsible for controlling them while security forces mobilize outside. A call for protests in Hohhot led to similar tactics there. It is unclear where the call initiated, but the SMHRIC was active in spreading the word internationally. Universities, and possibly other schools, were shut down in Hohhot, including the Inner Mongolia Normal University, which reportedly posted a notice saying students would need to fill out an application to enter or leave the campus. In closing down the schools, Inner Mongolian authorities effectively stopped the largest potential protest constituency. A New York Times video of the May 30 protest showed no more than a few hundred protesters in Hohhot's Xinhua Square, where a larger PAP force already was deployed. The protesters refrained from violence, so the PAP had little trouble dispersing the gathering. The situation in Inner Mongolia is by no means calm, but the quick response of the PAP, and the lack of new protester deaths, has stymied protests in the region for now. With students locked down and herders too widely dispersed to create large gatherings, the PAP should have little trouble handling further protests. International advocacy groups have been quick to highlight the events in Inner Mongolia and are no doubt trying to ignite more protests; the central government has countered by blaming the initial protests on foreign interference.

The People's Armed Police's Increasing Success

The PAP was the main force responsible for the security presence and crackdown in Inner Mongolia in the past two weeks. It was formed in 1983 and was formally given counter-protest responsibility in 2009. While it is under the Central Military Commission's authority, units are usually deployed under orders of the Ministry of Public Security. Experiences in Tibet in 2008 and Xinjiang in 2009 allowed PAP units to further hone their capabilities. The PAP's training and experience may be one reason for the limited violence during the Inner Mongolia crackdown. The deaths of protesters can strike fear into others, dispersing current unrest and discouraging it in the future. However, individual deaths, especially at the hands of state security forces, also provide a rallying cry, as with the protests that erupted after the death of Khaled Said in Egypt. Mobile phones and Internet connections have made the spread of information much harder to stop, so news of deaths can spread easily, even overcoming Chinese censorship, as seen with the two deaths that sparked the unrest in Inner Mongolia. In order to prevent similar events, the PAP has been growing in training, experience and responsibility, especially in the past decade. Instead of a focus on quelling ongoing unrest, Beijing has looked to arrest potential dissidents as well as develop intelligence on potential protests and mobilize beforehand. Due to the public nature of online calls for protests, this is not very difficult. Authorities in China have censored Internet searches and information on the events in Inner Mongolia and disrupted Internet communications, such as chat rooms, in the region in order to stop the spread of information on the protests. The PAP is divided into local units, and thus the training and experience is not necessarily standard. But given the commonality of local protests and the potential to train units in other areas based on lessons learned, the PAP's training is much more robust than it was two decades ago. Beijing is ever wary of new protests, and the new tactics of the Jasmine gatherings and Inner Mongolian protests may be greater causes for concern. Nevertheless, the PAP's success in Inner Mongolia undoubtedly can be seen as a proof of concept as the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident nears on June 4.

Tiananmen Anniversary

Every year, Chinese authorities increase monitoring and security measures to prevent June 4 demonstrations. This year, members of a group called the Tiananmen Mothers, which advocates public recognition of dead family members, have reported increased monitoring of their homes and questioning by authorities in recent weeks. Chinese authorities will also increase Internet censorship and fill public areas, particularly Tiananmen Square, with security personnel to stop any new dissidents. (click here to view interactive map)

May 24

  • The Dali Public Security Bureau announced it had arrested a suspect with approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of heroin in Yunnan province. Authorities acted on a tip that the suspect was trafficking drugs from the Myanmar border.
  • A man with a small explosive device seized a hostage on the streets of Hancheng, Shaanxi province, and demanded a 200,000 yuan (about $31,000) ransom. The man released the hostage and tried to escape after police fired warning shots. While running away he detonated the device, which may have been an explosive detonator or an improvised explosive device (IED), causing minor injuries to himself and a police officer. No one else was hurt.
  • A villager killed his two parents-in-law, their son and their granddaughter before committing suicide in Longhui, Hunan province, after a dispute with his wife and her family. In another family conflict May 27, a suspect killed four people and injured six in Shuyang, Jiangsu province; he survived a suicide attempt.

May 25

  • The deputy mayor of Guangyuan, Sichuan province, was under investigation for unlawful behavior, Chinese media reported. He is rumored to have helped put Jiange County on the list of national reconstruction projects after the May 2008 Sichuan Earthquake even though the county was not damaged.
  • Zhao Lianhai, the activist who exposed the 2008 melamine scandal, was detained for less than 24 hours while campaigning for transparency in a secret national fund to help the victims of the scandal. He was detained while making signs at a print shop near the China Dairy Industry Association headquarters in Beijing, which he said had refused to compensate his family even though his son was made sick. He was released on medical parole in December 2010 after spending two and a half years in jail on the charge of inciting social disorder.

May 26

  • Beijing police dismissed Internet rumors that men were attacking young women with poison gas on the subway. The rumors, spread on social networking sites, claimed men were releasing some sort of gas from their cellphones on subway lines 4 and 10 that would make their victims feel dizzy and numb. Police said that the reports were false and that there is sufficient monitoring of the subway.
  • The Yiliang County Procuratorate announced it recently arrested four suspects for falsifying medical records at the Jiahua Hospital. The four allegedly paid patients 10-300 yuan each to borrow their Rural Cooperative Medical Service Fund medical cards and embezzled 790,000 yuan from the fund.

May 27

  • Chinese media reported that Walmart's chief financial officer and chief operating officer for China resigned after they oversaw the reporting of false sales volumes., an economic news website, reported that sales departments falsely reported gift card sales in order to meet their quotas and receive bonuses. The report has not been confirmed, and Walmart stated that the executives stepped down "to explore other opportunities."
  • The Chongqing Municipal People's Congress elected Police Chief Wang Lijun, famous for his involvement in the Chongqing organized crime crackdown, as the new vice mayor.

May 30

  • An explosion at the Shandong Baoyuan Chemical Co. plant in Zibo, Shandong province, killed three people and injured eight. Local police are investigating the cause, which was likely an industrial accident.
  • Zhejiang provincial authorities announced they detained 74 people and shut off water and power supplies to 652 factories after a two-month investigation into lead poisoning in Taizhou, Zhejiang province. One hundred seventy-two people suffered lead poisoning in the city, which has many lead-acid battery and electroplating factories.
  • A fourth victim died as a result of the May 26 serial IED attack on government buildings in Fuzhou, Jiangxi province. The man was an employee of the water conservancy bureau in Linchuan district. The attack is still under investigation, and those who knew the main suspect — Qian Mingqi, who died in the attack — are being questioned. Qian's son and two other people who knew of Qian's petitioning activities have been detained for questioning since May 29.

May 31

  • Sixty people potentially involved in bribery at Chinese state telecom firms were required to hand in their passports while an investigation is ongoing, Chinese media reported. The Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection sent investigators to look into bribery allegations at China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom sometime last week. It is unclear if the investigation is related to a 2010 investigation of a senior China Mobile executive, Zhang Chunjiang.
  • The director of the Dongguan Public Security Bureau in Guangdong province complained that security measures taken by nearby Shenzhen in preparation for the Summer Universiade created "great stress" for his city. He implied that some of the 80,000 people deemed "high-risk" and ejected from Shenzhen in preparation for the August athletic event ended up in Dongguan. He said he had increased police patrols in order to respond to emergency calls.

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