Domestic Security in China under Xi Jinping

Sheena Chestnut Greitens*

Friday, March 1, 2019


Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, there have been major structural, legal, personnel, and policy changes to the CCP’s approach to domestic security. Xi has created new institutions, such as the Central National Security Commission and the National Supervision Commission, to improve coordination among the various agencies of the coercive apparatus and to tighten discipline and anti-corruption efforts within the party-state. The People’s Armed Police has also been restructured. Significant turnover of personnel has occurred within the domestic security agencies (including the leadership of both the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security), partly due to efforts to remove officials associated with Zhou Yongkang, former head of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.  Meanwhile, a number of new laws on domestic security and the expansion of tech-based approaches to social control, such as grid management, represent attempts to strengthen the CCP’s ability to police contention within Chinese society. Finally, there has been a major shift in the CCP’s security strategy in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, resulting in heightened international scrutiny and attention.  This article reviews these developments and their cumulative effect on domestic security in China under Xi Jinping. 

Xi Jinping has significantly reshaped domestic security in China. These efforts have occupied a central and visible place in his governance; for example, in 2015 Xinhua listed knife handle (daobazi, 刀把子), a euphemism for the party’s domestic security forces, as one of twelve phrases that Xi used most frequently during his first two years in office.[ii]  The Xinhua article referenced Xi’s January 2015 guidance at the Central Political and Legal Work Conference, in which Xi, echoing a 1926 speech by Mao Zedong, called for the cultivation of a political-legal team that was loyal to the party, the country, the people, and the law (in that order), to “ensure that the knife is firmly in the hands of the party and the people.”[iii] Moreover, Xi himself noted during a January 2019 speech at the Central Political & Legal Work Conference that since the 18th National Party Congress, China’s leaders have elevated the importance of political-legal work and begun to implement a series of major reforms.[iv] The changes in recent years are designed to strengthen Xi and the CCP’s control over the domestic security apparatus and over Chinese society.


With that in mind, this article reviews four of the major developments in domestic/public security work that have occurred in China under Xi Jinping: changes to the organizational structures and legal frameworks that shape domestic security policy and practice in China; changes in internal security personnel due to both regular retirement and the ongoing anti-corruption campaign; expansion of “grid management” and other high-tech surveillance and social-management tools; and the CCP’s changing domestic security strategy in Xinjiang.


New Organizational Structures and New Laws   


Xi Jinping has created new organizational and legal structures to guide the CCP’s internal security work and its stability maintenance tasks. Organizationally, the biggest changes include the establishment of the Central National Security Commission (CNSC) (zhongyang guojia anquan weiyuanhui, 中央国家安全委员会), announced in November 2013; the creation of the National Supervisory Commission (NSC) (guojia jiancha weiyuanhui, 国家监察委员会), created in 2018; and the restructuring of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) (zhongguo renmin wuzhuang jingcha budui, 中国人民武装警察部队) in 2017-18. Xi has complemented this organizational restructuring with a set of new laws intended to enhance control over Chinese society, including laws on cybersecurity, management of non-governmental organizations, intelligence, and others. 


The Central National Security Commission reports to the party leadership and holds a higher rank than the regular leading small groups. Early coverage in the official media indicated that it would focus on “holistic” or “overall national security” (zongti guojia anquanguan, 总体安全观) in eleven broad areas, including both external and internal security issues.[v] One of the primary drivers for creating the CNSC was to improve intelligence-sharing and policy coordination by reducing bureaucratic stove-piping and fragmentation across previously atomized military, intelligence, and public security organizations. There was some belief that in the past this fragmentation had prevented Chinese leaders from receiving the information needed to make decisions in a timely, proactive manner. [vi] This effort by Xi is not the first attempt to improve integration; Jiang Zemin initiated a Central Leading Group for National Security in 2000 (reportedly after his exposure to the U.S. National Security Council during a visit to the United States in 1997). In 2004, officials in the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) announced plans for “new integrated intelligence structures” to improve nationwide public security intelligence work, but this effort did not extend beyond the MPS.[vii] By 2012–13, public security journals reflected a growing consensus that the CCP still lacked effective information-sharing and coordination mechanisms for security-related decision-making.[viii] This is the backdrop to the creation of the CNSC. 


Thus far, public coverage of the CNSC has been limited. A February 2017 CNSC symposium (zuotanhui, 座谈会) was attended by twelve Politburo members (Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Wang Huning, Liu Qizhen, Sun Zhengcai, Fan Changlong, Meng Jianzhu, Hu Chunhua, Li Zhanshu, Guo Jinlong, and Han Zheng), and eight other top central government and military leaders (Yang Jing, Guo Shengwei, Fang Fenghui, Zhang Yang, Yang Jiechi, Zhou Xiaochuan, Zhao Keshi, and Zhang Youxia); reports indicated that all provincial party secretaries also attended this symposium.[ix] At an April 2018 meeting, the CNSC adopted a regulation that strengthened the CCP’s leadership and coordination role in national security affairs and outlined the responsibilities of party leaders and committees to ensure that party directives are implemented. In his accompanying remarks, Xi Jinping called for enhanced party-building efforts within the national security system.[x] Combined with the high degree of personnel replacement within the coercive apparatus (see below), these changes can be seen both as an attempt to solve a long-standing bureaucratic coordination problem in China’s party-state system, and as an attempt to consolidate Xi’s personal control over the coercive apparatus, an area key to his political survival and power.


The NSC was announced in October 2017 and established in spring 2018.[xi] A state body that answers to the National People’s Congress and oversees the corresponding commissions at the local level, the NSC is integrated and cooperates with the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).[xii] The NSC folds in three former state agencies that dealt with corruption: the Ministry of Supervision, the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention, and the anti-corruption departments within the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. It has jurisdiction over a broad range of civil servants and “persons who perform public duties,” with the notable exception of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP). The CCDI is led by Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member Zhao Leiji (赵乐际), who succeeded Wang Qishan in fall 2017, whereas CCDI deputy Yang Xiaodu (杨晓渡) leads the NSC.


The new NSC represents a significant effort to build on earlier attempts to strengthen the power and independence of the party-state’s discipline apparatus and to institutionalize Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption efforts at a high level within the party-state.[xiii] Local supervision commissions report horizontally to the local people’s congresses and vertically to the supervision commission at the next higher level, while they are also subject to party oversight.[xiv] The effects of creating a new, high-ranking state organ are yet to be observed: the NSC is likely to solve some problems (such as fragmentation among state actors and collusion between local commissions and party committees),[xv] while exacerbating or creating other problems Meanwhile, consolidating state organs but keeping them under clear party control will circumscribe progress toward an independent legal system—a continuance of CCP rule by law.[xvi]


Xi Jinping also oversaw a significant restructuring of the People’s Armed Police in 2017-18. This restructuring abolished the previous dual command structure, under which the PAP reported both to the Central Military Commission (CMC) and State Council; as of 1 January 2018, the PAP resides “under the unified control” of the CCP Central Committee and the Central Military Commission.[xvii] Moreover, under a reform plan codified in March 2018, the composition of the PAP itself has changed. Civilian-oriented units of the PAP (such as those responsible for forestry and firefighting) will be transferred to other ministries, while the PAP itself will recombine with the China Coast Guard, from which it separated in 2013.[xviii] These reforms also limit the ability of local or provincial authorities to deploy the PAP, and are intended both to strengthen central party control over the armed police force and to align command structures with the existing distribution of PAP spending.[xix] Since coming to office, Xi has also replaced the leadership of the PAP; in 2014, PLA officer Wang Ning (王宁), who had not previously served in the PAP but who is seen as an associate of Xi’s, became the PAP’s commanding officer.[xx]


The final change in the structure of domestic security under Xi Jinping has been the passage of a series of laws intended to tighten control over Chinese society. These include (but are not limited to) laws on counter-espionage (反间谍法, 2014);[xxi] national security (国家安全法, 2015);[xxii] counter-terrorism (反恐怖主义法, 2015);[xxiii] cyber-security (网络安全法, 2016);[xxiv] management of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs, 境外非政府组织境内活动管理法, 2016),[xxv] and national intelligence (国家情报法, 2017).[xxvi] Although some of the more controversial measures that were included in the initial draft laws have now been eliminated, collectively the new laws strengthen and expand the power of the party-state in both domestic and external security, and they are intended to tighten control and to crack down on activists and other actors within Chinese civil society.[xxvii]

Personnel Changes within the Domestic Security Apparatus


Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has also significantly reshaped the leadership profile of China’s political-legal system (zhengfa xitong, 政法系统) that handles domestic coercion and public security. Although there has been some attention to how the removal of top officials has impacted the military, including in the pages of China Leadership Monitor,[xxviii] there has been less systematic attention to the removal of officials associated with the domestic security apparatus. 


Indeed, thus far the highest-ranking party official to face corruption charges came from within the non-military coercive apparatus: Zhou Yongkang (周永康), former member of the PSC and secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (zhengfawei, 政法委) from 2007 to 2012. Prior to Zhou’s ascension to the PSC, he had been a Politburo member and Minister of Public Security (2002–7); under his leadership, the number of provincial police chiefs and political-legal committee chairs involved in provincial party leadership across the country increased sharply.[xxix] In late July 2014, Xinhua announced that Zhou had been under investigation for corruption since late 2013; Zhou was expelled from the CCP and formally arrested in December 2014. Although officials from the Supreme Court had announced that his trial would be public, charges in April 2015 were followed by a May trial in a closed Tianjin courtroom. In June 2015, Zhou was found guilty of bribery, abuse of power, and intentional disclosure of state secrets, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. As in the case of former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) General Guo Boxiong, the fall of Zhou did not come as a surprise, as it had been preceded by a series of investigations of people surrounding Zhou, including family members and professional associates.[xxx] 


The anti-corruption campaign targeted three parts of Zhou’s network: those from Sichuan province, the energy sector, and the public security apparatus. Zhou Yongkang’s son Zhou Bin and other family members were implicated in bribery; other senior figures in Zhou’s network who have been arrested or investigated include Li Chuncheng, former deputy party secretary of Sichuan;[xxxi] vice governor of Hainan Ji Wenlin (冀文林), who served as Zhou’s aide in the Ministry of Public Security;[xxxii] oil executive and senior official Jiang Jiemin,[xxxiii] and oil and mining executives Hua Bangsong[xxxiv] and Liu Han, the latter of whom was Zhou Bin’s business partner and was executed with his brother and three others in February 2015.[xxxv] Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, also considered to be a protégé of Zhou, was removed in early 2012 and sentenced in 2013 to life in prison on charges of corruption. Zhou had reportedly recommended that Bo replace him as the head of the zhengfawei and as domestic security point person on the PSC and he had warned Bo of his impending arrest (which led to the “state secrets” charge against Zhou).[xxxvi] At the party congress in October 2017, securities commission chair Liu Shiyu accused Zhou, Bo, and four others, including former CMC Vice Chairmen Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, of conspiring to overthrow Xi Jinping.[xxxvii]


Other prominent officials within the public security apparatus who have been purged since 2012 include former Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng (李东生) and Vice Minister of Public Security and head of Interpol Meng Hongwei (孟宏伟). The CCDI announced in December 2013 that Li Dongsheng was under investigation; days later, he was removed from his MPS post. In June 2014, he was expelled from the CCP and transferred to the judicial authorities on charges of bribery; in January 2016, he was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for bribery totaling ~22 million RMB (~3.5 million USD).[xxxviii] The most recent high-profile arrest is that of Meng Hongwei, who formerly headed China’s Interpol branch (2004–16), and in 2016 became president of Interpol while concurrently serving as vice minister of public security.  Meng’s Interpol position had been seen as a mark of China’s growing leadership in international institutions, but it had also raised concern that Interpol would be used to crack down on dissidents and Xi’s political opponents abroad. Meng was detained on a return trip to China in October 2018, and the CCDI issued a terse statement acknowledging that he was under investigation by the NSC.[xxxix] Meng subsequently resigned in absentia from Interpol, while his wife remains under protection in France.


Meng’s removal completed a changing of the guard at the Ministry of Public Security (gong’anbu, 公安部). Former minister Guo Shengkun (who served from 2012 to 2017) now heads the zhengfawei; all of the vice ministers who served under Guo Shengkun in 2012 are gone, either retired (4), arrested (Li Dongsheng and Meng Hongwei), demoted (Yang Huanning, 杨焕宁), or transferred (Huang Ming, 黄明). In their place there is a new team of public security officials, the majority of whom earlier in their careers had served under Xi Jinping.[xl]


Also removed was Minister of Justice Wu Aiying (吴爱英, 2005–2017). One of the few top female officials in China, Wu had focused on the role of the judicial system in maintaining social stability.[xli] She left her position at the Justice Ministry in February 2017, and in October of that year the party announced that she had been expelled due to “serious discipline issues” (the typical euphemism for corruption), but to date no charges or prosecution have followed.[xlii] Her expulsion followed the arrest of Lu Enguang, who headed the Justice Ministry’s political department, on charges of bribery in June of 2017; Lu was sentenced to twelve years in prison in October 2018.[xliii]


Other changes occurred in the MSS (guojia anquanbu, 国家安全部).  In 2012, Vice Minister Lu Zhongwei was removed after an investigation into an aide’s alleged spying for the United States.[xliv] In early 2014, Liang Ke, former head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of State Security and an associate of Zhou Yongkang, was arrested, reportedly for spying on other high-ranking Chinese officials and providing information to Zhou.[xlv] (Liang was reportedly assisted by Vice Minister of State Security Qiu Jin; rumors have circulated of an investigation into Qiu’s activities, but thus far nothing has been publicly announced.)[xlvi] In January 2015, the CCDI announced an investigation into Vice Minister of State Security Ma Jian (马建), who had held his position since 2006, as well as two other state security officials. Ma was replaced by Su Deliang (苏德良), a long-time state security official whose most recent position was directing the ministry’s political department.[xlvii] After the retirement of Minister of State Security Geng Huichang, who had led the MSS since 2007, former police official Chen Wenqing (陈文清), a deputy at the CCDI under Wang Qishan, became party secretary and then concurrently minister of state security.[xlviii]


There are few signs that the anti-corruption campaign within the public security apparatus has run its course. In early 2018, the CCP Central Committee and State Council announced the launch of a “Special Campaign against Organized Crime” (saohei chu’e zhuanxiang douzheng, 扫黑除恶专项斗争) that specifically targets public security personnel who provide protection umbrellas (baohu san, 保护伞) to criminal organizations, a call reiterated by Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (赵克志) at a conference in August 2018.[xlix] Moreover, a number of domestic security officials at the municipal and prefectural levels have been purged. The most prominent of the municipal-level officials to fall is Liang Ke (see above). Additionally, in summer 2018 provincial-level public security officials in Chongqing, Shandong, Henan, and Hubei were removed, investigated, and expelled from the party, as were lower-level public security officials in Henan, Hunan, Anhui, Shanxi, Hainan, Guilin, Shenzhen, Hebei, Guangdong, and Jiangxi.[l] Some of these officials were accused of providing protective umbrellas for illicit activities and corruption in their respective areas of jurisdiction, a term that was referenced again in Xi’s January 2019 speech to the Central Political and Legal Work Conference.[li]


Expansion of Grid Management and Technology-Based Surveillance    


During Xi’s tenure, the CCP has expanded its application of technology-based tools of surveillance and social management, a process that Sebastian Heilmann calls “Digital Leninism.”[lii] These efforts seek to combine technology, big data, and artificial intelligence to improve Chinese governance and to ensure that the state can monitor and track, in close to real-time, the behavior of its citizens. 


One of the major approaches to tech-based “social management” that has accelerated under Xi Jinping is grid management (wanggehua guanli, 网格化管理).  These efforts were underway prior to Xi’s assumption of leadership; the first experiment with grid management reportedly took place in Beijing’s Dongcheng District (北京市东城区) in 2004–7,[liii] and subsequent experiments took place in a number of other urban areas in the following years. By 2015, it is estimated that at least 168 of China’s 332 prefectural-level cities were using grid management for social management and social control.[liv] After national leaders embraced the model at the 2017 Nineteenth Party Congress, the approach was expanded, including into more rural areas.[lv]


Grid management works by dividing cities into geographic cells that become administrative units.  In each grid, a grid manager and related staff collect information, identify and report potential problems, and address resident complaints. At the district level, information from the grids is integrated with other layers of data (on public utilities, traffic, sanitation, housing, population, crime, etc.), as well as with information collected via mobile applications and citizen/volunteer input provided through online portals and phone hotlines. This integrated information platform is then shared across multiple government departments, including public security; it is intended to facilitate early identification of social-management problems so that they can be resolved proactively. A number of articles in Chinese public administration journals speak positively of the potential for grid management to advance urban governance (and, in some cases, the articles explicitly acknowledge the potential of grid management to deepen party penetration into society at the grassroots level). A number of articles also highlight problems that require ongoing attention and consideration, such as unresolved bureaucratic fragmentation; the need for better cross-jurisdictional integration of different grid management platforms; improved accountability to solve potential social problems once they are identified; care with adapting grid management to more rural areas; and the relatively high financial and personnel costs of the system.[lvi]


Grid management is part of a broader effort to implement innovative social management and urban grassroots governance, but undeniably it also carries coercive functions. Apart from observing residents and gathering information, grid managers and their public security counterparts sometimes engage in soft forms of repression, such as persuasion and intimidation, to preemptively demobilize potential political dissent. For instance, one recent profile of a Nanjing grid manager praises her for preventing a resident from organizing a group of petitioners who planned to travel to Beijing.  She did this by visiting the home of the resident with a mediator and a local public security official (tiaojieyuan, 调解员 and minjing, 民警) to discuss his concerns and caution him of the “severe consequences and risks” (yanzhong houguo he weihai, 严重后果和危害) from seeking extreme solutions to his problem.[lvii] Indeed, one of the explicitly stated purposes of grid management is to give local officials better information early on, thereby providing them with the capacity to respond preventively to potential sources of social unrest.[lviii] 


As part of this effort, provincial and local governments are investing heavily in various types of surveillance technologies. In addition to platforms that integrate the various layers of grid data, the nationwide Skynet program (tianwang gongcheng, 天网工程), led by the zhengfawei and overseen by the ministries of public security and industry and information technology, has deployed millions of CCTV cameras augmented with facial recognition technology; recent reports have also mentioned the introduction of facial recognition glasses by police officers in Beijing, Tianjin, and Xinjiang.[lix] In journalistic tests, these systems have been able to locate and apprehend individuals within 5–7 minutes.[lx] Efforts are also underway to extend the approach into rural areas with the so-called “Bright Snow Project” (xueliang gongcheng, 雪亮工程), which accelerated in 2015–16.[lxi]  One recent Reuters report highlights a 2017–18 increase in the procurement of smartphone data-extraction devices, which have been purchased in 32 of China’s 33 provinces.[lxii] Officials and technology companies generally highlight the cutting-edge use of data and technology (biometrics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the like) as an example of China’s global leadership in this sector, and they emphasize the benefits of this approach for public safety—for example, quoting a daughter in Changsha who credited the Tianwang system with quickly finding her lost mother.[lxiii]


The use of Chinese technology and integration platforms for surveillance, policing, and social control also appears to be expanding globally, along the lines of China’s growing global footprint.  To date, Huawei has assisted “Safe City” projects in over 100 cities, promoting itself as a cutting-edge public safety platform with demonstrated success in crime reduction across numerous countries.[lxiv] Governments from Singapore to Zimbabwe are adopting Chinese facial-recognition technology and information platforms to improve public security,[lxv] and Xi Jinping’s July 2018 speech to Arab leaders promised the region up to 1 billion RMB to strengthen “national stability” under the auspices of his signature Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting the potential for further expansion in the years ahead.[lxvi] One unanswered but relevant question is the impact of U.S.-China trade tensions on the further development and export of these technologies, with some reports from late 2018 indicating that Western countries (including the United States) have slowed down the purchase of technical components for such surveillance and security programs due to trade restrictions as well as concerns about both human rights and industrial espionage.[lxvii]

The CCP’s Changing Security Strategy in Xinjiang  


In recent years the CCP has carried out increasingly stringent security measures in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). These measures are often attributed to two factors: the outbreak of unrest and protests that occurred among the Uighur population beginning in 2008–9;[lxviii] and the role of Chen Quanguo (陈全国), who became XUAR party secretary in 2016 after previously holding the same position in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) from 2011 to 2016.[lxix] The heightened security measures have targeted an increasingly broad swathe of the Uighur population and have focused on detention and political re-education under the guise of “vocational training.”  In a periodic report on China, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raises concern about the “numerous and credible” reports of mass detentions in the XUAR, including estimates that upwards of one million Uighurs have been held for re-education and that Muslims are being treated as “enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity.”[lxx]


The CCP has pointed to a series of incidents of unrest, attacks, and clashes between police and protestors that occurred within and beyond the borders of the XUAR from 2009 to 2015 as evidence of a serious security and terrorist threat from Uighur separatism.[lxxi] In 2014, party leaders launched the “Strike Hard against Violent Terrorist Activity” Campaign (严厉打击暴力恐怖活动专项行动) that included a small-scale re-education component. In 2016, the CCP began to introduce convenience police stations and grid management techniques to urban areas in Xinjiang: facial-recognition software was installed in public spaces, and checkpoints verified people’s identification as well as sometimes checking the content of their cell phones. Internal travel (which previously had not been unfettered) became even more tightly restricted.[lxxii] Domestic security spending in the region increased from 5.45 billion RMB in 2007 to 57.95 billion RMB in 2017: annual increases of 2–3 times the national average and even higher than the increases in the TAR.[lxxiii] Beginning in 2013, police recruitment in Xinjiang increased rapidly, and then exponentially: in a twelve-month period in 2016–17, Xinjiang advertised over 90,000 security positions—twelve times the number advertised in 2009 and far outstripping the growth of private- sector employment.[lxxiv]


Early 2017 marked a further intensification and broadening of the CCP’s coercive efforts in the form of wide-scale extrajudicial detentions and internments aimed at mass indoctrination and re-education. In March 2017, a party document on new “de-extremification regulations” (新疆维吾尔自治区去极端化条例) called for transformation through education.[lxxv] In subsequent months, the XUAR authorities began to utilize involuntary detention and re-education on a mass scale; some human rights groups and scholars estimate that one million people were detained, and that ~30 percent of southern Xinjiang’s Uighur population have been re-educated (20 percent in “non-custodial” classes and 10 percent in a network of mass internment camps).[lxxvi] Muslim members of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz minorities have reportedly been imprisoned as well. According to reports from within the region, much of the content of the re-education is the study of Han Chinese language and culture, and curtailment of Muslim religious practices and Muslim identification in favor of a more pan-Chinese identity that is compatible with and loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.[lxxvii]


Chinese official media have framed these detention facilities as “re-education training centers” and “vocational schools,” but they have also contended that they are necessary to ensure social stability and combat the “three -isms” (terrorism, separatism, and radicalism) that have infected the region’s population. Medical metaphors are common: patients who have been infected by extremist thinking must be saved before the symptoms appear. This framing, however, also points to China’s long-standing concern with linkages between domestic unrest and hostile forces outside of China, in particular in this context fears of Uighur separatism forming operational links with al-Qaeda and now ISIS.[lxxviii] This narrative has been assisted by members of related organizations taking responsibility for or praising some of the higher-profile attacks, but estimates about how many Uighurs have traveled to Syria or the Middle East to fight with ISIS (and how many have survived that struggle as of today) vary widely.[lxxix] These concerns may explain why part of the CCP’s approach to Xinjiang applies pressure on the Uighur diaspora outside of China, including accounts of coerced return to the PRC.[lxxx]


The use of advanced technologies to police the XUAR has also drawn scrutiny, and is one of the reasons behind the Western tightening of exports of technical components to security-technology companies such as Hikvision and Dahua. In early 2017, XUAR authorities initiated an “Accurate Census and Population Verification Program” (全疆人口精准核查) with an emphasis on southern Xinjiang (where the Uighur population is concentrated); the program is intended to collect both biographical  and biological information on Uighur residents that may be used to determine the political reliability of individuals[lxxxi] Local authorities have also started to construct an “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP, yitihua lianhe zuozhan pinghe, 一体化联合作战平台), which employs facial recognition and machine learning to analyze graphical information collected from an expansive surveillance network. The IJOP collects data from video cameras, security checkpoints, and other official records, uses predictive algorithms to analyze it, and then provides the information to local officials so they can respond rapidly.[lxxxii] Registered vehicles in some areas have been required to install GPS tracking devices, and residents have been asked to install a surveillance app, called “Web Cleaning” (jingwang weishi, 净网卫士), on their smartphones and computers that are capable of monitoring and reporting on online activities.[lxxxiii]



Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, there have been major structural, personnel, and policy changes to the CCP’s approach to domestic security. New institutions such as the CNSC and NSC and restructuring in the PAP have sought to improve coordination within and tighten party discipline over the various agencies of the coercive apparatus. Significant turnover of personnel has taken place in the domestic security agencies, in part due to efforts by the anti-corruption campaign to remove officials associated with former zhengfawei head Zhou Yongkang. Meanwhile, new laws on domestic security and expanding tech-based approaches to social control, such as grid management, represent an attempt to strengthen the CCP’s ability to police contention within Chinese society as the CCP’s shifting security strategy in Xinjiang has also resulted in heightened international scrutiny and attention. [lxxxiv] These efforts can be read in various ways—attempts to consolidate Xi’s personal power, to tighten control over other elites and the party-state itself, and to strengthen control over Chinese society. The remainder of Xi’s tenure, however long that may be, will show how effective the above efforts will ultimately be at achieving each of those potential goals.  

About the Contributor


Sheena Chestnut Greitens is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  Her research focuses on security, East Asia, and authoritarian politics. Dr. Greitens holds a Ph.D from Harvard University; an M.Phil from Oxford University, where she studied as a Marshall Scholar; and a B.A. from Stanford University. Her first book, Dictators & Their Secret Police (Cambridge, 2016) received the 2017 Best Book Award from both the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association's Comparative Democratization section.



*The author thanks Steve Bai and Yuan-Yuan Hsu for research assistance.


[ii]  “Zhe liang nian Xi Jinping dai huo de 12 ge re ci” [Xi Jinping’s hot phrases during the past two years], Xinhua, 6 February 2015, at

[iii]  “Xi Jinping jiu zhengfa gongzuo zuochu zhongyao zhishi” [Xi Jinping issues important instructions on political-legal work], Xinhua, 20 January 2015, at; see also Meng Jianzhu’s elaboration: “Qieshi tigao zhengfa jiguan fuwu daju de nengli he shuiping” [Effectively improve the ability and level of political and legal organs to serve the overall situation], Renmin fayuan bao, 18 March 2015,  at

[iv] Xinhua reported, “习近平在讲话中强调,党的十八大以来,党中央把政法工作摆到更加重要的位置来抓,作出一系列重大决策,实施一系列重大举措,维护了政治安全、社会安定、人民安宁,促进了经济社会持续健康发展.”  See “Xi Jinping zai zhongyang zhengfa gongzuo  huiyi shang qiangdiao [Xi Jinping’s emphasis at the Central Political & Legal Work Conference],” Xinhua, 16 January 2019, at

[v] Zhang Yunbi, “Xi outlines new strategy to protect nation,” China Daily, 16 April 2014, at; Shannon Tiezzi, “China’s National Security Commission Holds First Meeting,” The Diplomat, 16 April 2014, at

[vi] You Ji, “China’s National Security Commission: Theory, evolution, and operations,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 25, No. 98 (2016): 178–196; see also David M. Lampton, “Xi Jinping and the National Security Commission: Policy coordination and political power,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 24, No. 95 (2015): 759–777.

[vii] Edward Schwarck, “Intelligence and informatization: The rise of the Ministry of Public Security in intelligence work in China,” China Journal, No. 80 (July 2018): 1–23.

[viii] Joel Wuthnow, “China's new ‘black box’: Problems and prospects for the Central National Security Commission,” China Quarterly, No. 232 (November 2017): 895.

[ix] “Members of the National Security Commission debut at the News Network,” Pengpai xinwen, 17 February 2017, at

[x] “Xi calls for efforts to break new ground in national security,” Xinhua, 17 April 2018, at

[xi] “China to set up National Supervision Commission next year,” Xinhua, 30 October 2018, at

[xii] “CPC proposes listing supervisory commissions as state organs in constitution,” Xinhua, 25 February 2018, at; “Dang he guojia jigou gaige fang’an quanwen gongbu” [The full text of the party and state institutional reform plan is announced], Xinhua, 21 March 2018, at

[xiii] As with previous anti-corruption campaigns, the creation of the NSC appears to have been driven by a combination of factors: a desire to strengthen “democratic centralism” and “unitary leadership” within the party, perceived pressures to appease public discontent over corrupt officials, and maneuvering in intra-party power struggles and leadership competition. See Joseph Fewsmith, China Since Tiananmen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Melanie Manion, Corruption by Design: Building Clean Government in Mainland China and Hong Kong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Susan Shirk, Political Logic of Economic Reform in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

[xiv] “China focus: Proposed constitutional revisions to navigate China into modernization,” Xinhua, 27 February 2018, at

[xv] Wang Haokui, “Zhide qidai de zhongyang xunshizu” [CCDI ad hoc teams are worth expecting], Guangming ribao, 13 June 2013; on the evolution of the CCDI and the local DICs, see Xuezhi Guo, “Controlling corruption in the party: China’s Central Discipline Inspection Commission,” China Quarterly, No. 219 (September 2014): 597–624.

[xvi] For two assessments, see Jinting Deng, “The National Supervision Commission: A new anti-corruption model in China,” International Journal of Law, Crime & Justice, Vol. 52 (March 2018): 58–73; Jamie P. Horsley, “What’s so controversial about China’s new anti-corruption body,” The Diplomat, 30 May 2018, at

[xvii] Zhao Lei, “Command of Armed Police to be unified,” China Daily, 28 December 2017, at

[xviii] Ni Wei, “Wujing gaige de chu yu jin: ba da jing zhong shoushen jianti [Armed Police Reform Emergence & Advancement: Downsizing the Eight Corps], Beijing News, 6 April 2018, at

[xix] Deng Xiaoci, “Civilian-oriented troops withdrawn from armed police force, enhancing CPC management,” Global Times, 21 March 2018, at; Adrian Zenz, Corralling the People’s Armed Police: Centralizing Control to Reflect Centralized Budgets,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 18, No. 7 (24 April 2018), at

[xx] Bo Zhiyue, “The Rise of the 31st Army in Chinese Politics,” The Diplomat, 30 December 2014, at; Kristin Huang, “China brings People’s Armed Police under control of top military chiefs,” South China Morning Post, 20 July 2018, at

[xxi] “China passes counter-espionage law,” Reuters, 1 November 2014, at; “China passes counterespionage law,” Xinhua, 1 November 2014, at; a translation of the law can be found at:

[xxii] “China adopts sweeping national-security law,” Wall Street Journal, 1 July 2015, at; a translation of the law can be found at:

[xxiii] “China passes controversial counter-terrorism law,” Reuters, 27 December 2015, at; a translation of the law can be found at:

[xxiv] Full Chinese text is at:, 7 November 2016; a translation of the law can be found at:

[xxv] A translation of the law can be found at:

[xxvi] Murray Scot Tanner, “Beijing’s new national intelligence law: From defense to offense,” Lawfare, 20 July 2017, at; the full text, 27 June 2016, can be found at:; a translation of the law can be found at:

[xxvii] Ya-Wen Lei, “Social protest under hard authoritarianism,” China Leadership Monitor, No. 58 (Winter 2018), at

[xxviii] For the most recent, see James Mulvenon, “Scraping poison off the bone: An examination of the campaign to eliminate the baneful influence of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou,” China Leadership Monitor, No. 52 (Winter 2017), at 

[xxix] Yuhua Wang and Carl Minzner, “The rise of the Chinese security state,” China Quarterly, No. 222 (June 2015): 339–539.

[xxx] James Mulvenon, “So crooked they have to screw their pants on, Part 3: Guo Boxiong edition,” China Leadership Monitor, No. 48 (Fall 2015), at

[xxxi] Michael Forsythe, “China sentences 2 former top Communist Party officials over bribes,” New York Times, 12 October 2015, at

[xxxii] “China sacks ally of former security chief as graft probe widens,” Reuters, 27 March 2014, at

[xxxiii] “Former China energy chief jailed for corruption,” BBC News, 12 October 2015, at

[xxxiv] “PetroChina supplier Wison says found guilty of bribery in China,” Reuters, 5 August 2015, at

[xxxv] Michael Forsythe, “China executes billionaire who ran ‘mafia-style’ criminal gang,” New York Times, 9 February 2015, at

[xxxvi] “Exclusive: China ex-security chief warned Bo Xilai he would be ousted,” Reuters, 15 April 2015, at

[xxxvii] “Top Chinese officials ‘plotted to overthrow Xi Jinping,’” BBC News, 20 October 2017, at

[xxxviii] “Former China deputy security minister sentenced to 15 years: State media,” Reuters, 11 January 2016, at

[xxxix]  The statement reads in full: “公安部副部长孟宏伟涉嫌违法,接受国家监委监察调查”  [Meng Hongwei, vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security, is suspected of breaking the law and is under supervision and investigation by the National Supervision Commission], 7 October 2018, at  

[xl] Choi Chi-yuk, “China’s removal of Meng Hongwei completes reshaping of Public Security Ministry,” South China Morning Post, 15 October 2018, at

[xli] “Chongfen fahui sifa xingzheng zhineng zuoyong weihu shehui wending” [Give full play to the role of the judicial administrative functions and maintain social stability], at

[xlii] “China expels former justice minister from party for graft,” Reuters, 14 October 2017, at


 “Former senior justice official jailed for bribery,” Xinhua, 31 October 2018, at

[xliv] “Exclusive: Arrested spy compromised China's U.S. espionage network: Sources,” Reuters, 15 June 2012, at

[xlv] Chris Buckley and Jonathan Ansfield, “Beijing official detained in investigation of former security chief,” New York Times, 21 February 2014, at

[xlvi] “In China, today's heroes are tomorrow's villains,” The Diplomat, 16 June 2015, at

[xlvii] “Su Deliang ren guojia anquanbu dangwei weiyuan, shengzhi bu zhuren”[Su Deliang is a member of the party committee of the Ministry of State Security and director of its political department], Renmin wang, 14 August 2014, at

[xlviii] China sacks ally of former security chief as graft probe widens,” Reuters, 27 March 2014, at ; “Quanguo renda renming Chen Wenqing wei guojia anquan bu buzhang” [The National People's Congress appoints Chen Wenqing as minister of National Security], Xinhua tongxunshe, 7 November 2016, at

[xlix] “Zhonggong zhongyang guowuyuan fachu ‘guanyu kaizhan sao hei chu e zhuanxiang douzheng de tongzhi’” [The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council issue a "Notice on the Launch of the Special Struggle for Eliminating Evil and Eliminating Evil"], Xinhuashe, 24 January 2018, at

[l] “Gong’an xitong fanfu jiama: Liangyue nei chao 20 ming juzhang fu juzhang bei cha duo renshe hei” [Public security system anti-corruption code: Over 20 directors and deputy directors are investigated within two months, many people involved in corruption], Pengpai xinwen, 6 September 2018, at

[li] Ting Gong, “Dangerous collusion: Corruption as a collective venture in contemporary China,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2002): 85–103.

[lii] Andrew Browne, “China uses ‘Digital Leninism’ to manage economy and monitor citizens,” Wall Street Journal, 17 October 2017, at

[liii] Wu Qiang, “Urban grid management and police state in China,” China Change, 12 August 2014, at

[liv] Lin Xuefei, “Zhengfujian zuzhi xuexi yu zhengce zaishengchan” [Organizational learning among governments and policy reproduction], Gonggong guanli xuebao (Journal of Public Management), Vol. 12, No. 1 (2015): 11–23; see also “China wants eyes and ears on every street,” The Economist, 28 June 2018, at

[lv] CCP Central Committee and State Council, “Guanyu jiaqiang he wanshan chengxiang shequ zhili de yijian” [Suggestions on enhancing and improving social management in urban and rural communities], State Council Bulletin, 12 June 2017,

[lvi] For example, Hu Chongming, “Zaizuzhihua yu Zhongguo shehui guanli chuangxin” [Reorganization and China’s social management innovation], Gonggong guanli xuebao [Journal of Public Management],  No.1 (2013): 63–70; Tian Xiong and Cao Jingqing, “Xianyu keceng zuzhi guize yu nongcun wangge hua guanli beilun” [The paradox of county bureaucracy and rural grid management], Xiandai chengshi yanjiu [Modern Urban Research], No. 10 (2016): 38–45.

[lvii] “Wo shenbian de wangge yuan” [The grid member around me], Politics and Law Committee of the Nanjing Municipal CCP, 4 June 2018, at

[lviii] See for example, Dong Youhong, “Da chengshi jiceng zonghe zhili jizhi chuangxin de lujing xuanze” [Path selection in innovation of grassroots comprehensive governance mechanisms in the big cities), Shanghai xingzheng xueyuan xuebao [Journal of Shanghai Administration Institute], No. 6 (2015): 31–37.

[lix] “Chinese startup makes facial recognition glasses for police,” Nikkei Asian Review, 21 August 2018, at

[lx] “In your face: China’s all-seeing state,” BBC News, 10 December 2017, at; “Tian wang gongcheng zhineng renlian jiankong xitong zai ying tiaozhan zhe 5 fen 22 miao bei zhuahuo” [Skynet Engineering intelligent face monitoring system and challenger captured in 5 minutes and 22 seconds],, 19 March 2018, at

[lxi] “Quanguo xueliang gongcheng jianshe Beijing” [Background to the construction of the National Snow Project], 13 October 2017, at

[lxii] “From laboratory in the far west, China’s surveillance state spreads quietly,” Reuters, 14 August 2018, at

[lxiii] “‘Tian wang’ wang shenme” [What is the Tianwang network?], Renmin zhoukan [People’s Weekly], No. 20 (2017), at

[lxiv] Koh Hong-Eng, “How video cameras can make cities safer and contribute to economic growth,” South China Morning Post, 3 June 2018, at 

[lxv] Ty Joplin, “China’s newest global export? Policing dissidents,” Albawaba, 31 May 2018, at

[lxvi] “Xi Jinping zai Zhong-A hezuo luntan dibajie buzhang ji huiyi kaimushishang de jianghua” [Xi Jinping’s speech at the opening ceremony of the 8th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab cooperation forum], Xinhua, 10 July 2018, at

[lxvii] “How tensions with the West are putting the future of China’s Skynet mass surveillance system at stake,” South China Morning Post, 4 October 2018, at

[lxviii] Ben Hillman and Gray Tuttle, eds., Ethnic Conflict in Tibet and Xinjiang: Unrest in China’s West (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), pp. 1–17.  

[lxix] Adrian Zenz and James Leibold, “Chen Quanguo: The strongman behind Beijing’s securitzation strategy in Tibet and Xinjiang,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 17, No. 2 (21 September 2017), at

[lxx] “Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination reviews the report of China,”  United Nations Human Rights, 13 August 2018, at ; on the role of religion in China’s crackdown more generally, see James Millward, “Reeducating Xinjiang’s Muslims,” New York Review of Books, 7 February 2019, at

[lxxi] Michael E. Clarke, ed., Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in China: Domestic and Foreign Policy Dimensions (London: Hurst & Co., 2018). 

[lxxii] Xinjiang Daily, 15 February 2014, cited in James Leibold, “Xinjiang work forum marks new policy of ethnic mingling,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 14, No. 12 (2014), at

[lxxiii] Adrian Zenz, “China’s domestic security spending: An analysis of available data,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 18, No. 4 (March 2018), at; Sheena Chestnut Greitens, “Rethinking China’s coercive capacity: An examination of China’s domestic security spending, 1992–2012,” China Quarterly, No. 232 (December 2017): 1002–1025.

[lxxiv] Adrian Zenz and James Leibold, “Xinjiang’s rapidly evolving security state,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 17, No. 4 (March 2017), at

[lxxv] XUAR government, “Xinjiang Weiwu’er Zizhiqu qu jiduan hua tiaoli,” [XUAR de-extremification regulations], Tianshan wang, 30 March 2017, at

[lxxvi] Adrian Zenz, “Thoroughly reforming them to a healthy heart attitude,” Central Asian Survey (2018), DOI: 10.1080/02634937.2018.1507997, at ; see also “China: Massive numbers of Uyghurs & other ethnic minorities forced into re-education programs,” China’s Human Rights Defenders, 3 August 2018, at

[lxxvii] James Millward, “Reeducating Xinjiang’s Muslims,” New York Review of Books, 7 February 2019, at

[lxxviii] “Investigations reveal details of Xinjiang terror attack,” Xinhua, 6 July 2013, at

[lxxix] “About 300 Chinese said fighting alongside Islamic state in Middle East,” Reuters, 15 December 2014, at; “China envoy says no accurate figure on Uighurs fighting in Syria,” Reuters, 20 August 2018, at; Colin P. Clarke and Paul Rexton Kan, “Uighur foreign fighters: An underexamined Jihadist challenge,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, at ; Gerry Shih, “China’s Uighurs grapple with pull of extremism,” Associated Press, 29 December 2017, at

[lxxx] “China is trying to prevent the formation of a vocal Uighur diaspora,” The Economist, 28 March 2018, at

[lxxxi] See the following document, issued by the Manas county government: “关于印发玛纳斯镇人口精准登记核实和依法规范身份证管理工作实施方案,” [The implementation plan for the accurate registration and verification of the population in Manas Town and regulation of identity card management according to the law], People’s Government of Manas County, 6 April 2018, at ; see also “Xinjiang jiang qidong shishi quan jiang renkou dengji jingzhun heshi gongzuo, yi nan jiang diqu wei zhongdian” [Xinjiang will launch  implementation of accurate verification of population registration in Xinjiang, focusing on southern Xinjiang], Pengpai xinwen, 22 February 2017, at

[lxxxii] “Does China’s digital police state have echoes in the West?” The Economist, 31 May 2018, at

[lxxxiii] “ 新疆巴州:6月30日前所有车须装北斗定位装置 ” [Bazhou, Xinjiang: All cars must be equipped with a Beidou positioning device before June 30], 28 February 2017, at; “‘Web cleansing’: China’s Xinjiang residents forced to install surveillance apps on their mobile phones,” Hong Kong Free Press, 22 July 2017, at