HomeExpansionismState-Owned Chinese Firms Forming their Own Militias to Keep Workers in Line

State-Owned Chinese Firms Forming their Own Militias to Keep Workers in Line

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China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are resurrecting militia units reminiscent of those established under Mao Zedong’s rule. This revival is not a mere nod to historical practices; it is a clear indicator of the Chinese government’s intensifying focus on security amid a backdrop of economic uncertainties and political unrest. The re-establishment of the People’s Armed Forces departments (PAFDs) within dozens of Chinese SOEs has unfolded against the slowest economic growth the country has seen in decades, prompting a deeper analysis of the motivations and implications of this strategy.

The PAFDs, historically tied to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for recruitment and civil defense activities, are today being positioned as a strategic interface between the corporate sector, the society at large, and the security apparatus of the state. Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the Rand Corporation think-tank, articulates the underlying concerns driving this initiative: “The activation of these PAFD units is a symptom of the leadership’s concern about the domestic social stability situation.” His observation underscores a central theme in the Chinese government’s rationale—mitigating the risks of social instability in the face of economic downturns.

This strategic maneuver is intricately linked to President Xi Jinping’s broader security agenda, which prioritizes the stability of the state amid both internal and external pressures. The PAFDs are envisioned not just as military or defense entities but as instruments of political and social control, designed to monitor and ensure compliance with the directives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), promote patriotism, and maintain a vigilant stance against any forms of dissent.

The economic context within which these militias are being revived is fraught with challenges. China’s once booming economy is now grappling with multiple vulnerabilities, including a protracted slowdown in the property sector, weakened consumer spending, and a decline in export revenues. The establishment of PAFDs within this context can be seen as a preemptive measure to fortify the nation against the potential fallout from these economic stressors.

Moreover, the geopolitical landscape adds another layer of complexity to this development. China’s fraying ties with the United States, its support for Vladimir Putin amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its military assertiveness around Taiwan and in the South China Sea, all contribute to a sense of heightened vulnerability. In this light, the PAFDs serve multiple functions: they are a signal of strength, a mechanism for internal control, and a preparation for any exigencies that may arise from international conflicts.

The revival of Mao-era militias within China’s state-owned and private enterprises represents a significant convergence of state power and industrial capacity, aligning closely with the characteristics of fascism, particularly in the use of industry to enforce state policies and ideologies. In fascist regimes, the integration of state and corporate sectors is leveraged to bolster authoritarian control, suppress dissent, and ensure the populace’s alignment with the government’s agenda. China’s establishment of PAFDs within its corporations serves as a stark manifestation of this principle. These militias are not merely defensive units but instruments of political enforcement, tasked with promoting patriotism, ensuring adherence to the Chinese Communist Party’s directives, and acting as a vanguard against perceived threats to social stability. This strategic amalgamation of military and corporate functions under state oversight to enforce conformity and suppress opposition reflects a core tenet of fascism, where the state exerts dominion over every facet of societal life, including the economy, under the guise of national security and unity.

The resurgence of interest in PAFDs, according to James Char, a China expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, is reflective of a significant shift in the CCP’s strategy, stressing ‘security’ over ‘development’. This shift is evident in the actions of both SOEs and private companies, such as the Yili Group, which established a PAFD, marking a significant expansion of this approach into the private sector.

The narrative around these militias is imbued with a sense of preparedness for a range of scenarios—from peacetime activities to emergency responses and potential wartime engagements. This is encapsulated in the announcement by the Yili Group, which stated that its defense force “serves in peacetime, responds in emergencies, and fights in wartime,” highlighting the dual-use nature of these units.

What makes the revival of PAFDs particularly ominous is the broader context of defense mobilization reforms within China. The gradual replacement of civil defense offices with defense mobilization offices nationwide is a clear indication of a shift towards a more militarized approach to national security. This transition not only signifies an enhancement of China’s security capabilities but also suggests a move towards consolidating the CCP’s control over all aspects of Chinese society, including the corporate sector.

The establishment of these militias within state-backed businesses and their expansion into the private sector represent a dark evolution of corporate-state relations in China. These units, while ostensibly created for defense and recruitment purposes, also serve a more sinister function as tools of oppression, aimed at suppressing dissent and maintaining the CCP’s grip on power. The blending of economic, political, and military strategies within the PAFDs reflects a complex mechanism designed to safeguard the party’s interests, enforce loyalty, and quell any challenges to its authority.

This is the beginning of an apparatus that is much more restrictive than China has seen, at least since the Mao days. And since China is bent on domination in its region and indeed the world, the West should be nervous.

https://www.ft.com/content/d6b2e4d6-2f84-4ef9-bf99-10d76d92d045

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