A specialized paramilitary force is to play a more important and irreplaceable strategic role in fighting separatism, extremism and terrorism in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, government officials said on Oct 7.
The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps was formed 60 years ago to carry out and develop militia duties in guarding border areas.
The corps, also known as Bingtuan, handles its own administrative and judicial affairs under divisions and regiments.
It has done so since the central government decided to demobilize more than 100,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers to form the corps in October 1954.
Besides setting up agricultural and stock-raising farms in the harsh environments of the Gobi dessert and border areas, the corps has formed emergency militia battalions.
These companies and platoons could be mobilized in response to activities endangering stability in Xinjiang, including terrorist incidents.
“The XPCC has continuously strengthened its ability to carry out militia duties, as it is on the front line of the battle against separatism and terrorism,” Vice-Premier Liu Yandong said on Oct 7.
“It has performed an irreplaceable role in safeguarding Xinjiang’s stability,” Liu said in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, at a conference marking the 60th anniversary of the corps.
Liu said that as fighting separatism and terrorism in Xinjiang will be a “long and complicated battle”, the corps’ involvement in maintaining stability and guarding China’s borders, which it specializes in, should be enforced.
Xinjiang has seen an increasing number of terrorist attacks in recent years as religious extremism penetrates the region.
Chen Jiazhu, deputy commander of the corps, said: “The XPCC is not an army, but it certainly has power to maintain social stability. Normally, everyone performs different production tasks. When we are required for missions, we must be ready. The corps aims to become a top militia force in China and to stabilize Xinjiang.”
Zhang Chunxian, first Party secretary of the corps and Xinjiang Party chief, said that prefectures in the region and the corps must strive for deeper cooperation in economic and social development and maintain stability.
He Jinsong, director of the office in charge of maintaining stability in the corps, said it is working on a system to integrate its own forces and those from other parts of Xinjiang to deal with emergencies such as terrorist attacks.
In 1990, the central government placed the corps’ economic planning under direct State supervision. At the end of 2013, the corps had 14 divisions and 176 regiments, with forces of 2.7 million.