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New “People’s Armed Forces Departments” in Chinese State-Owned Enterprises

The Shanghai Urban Investment Group recently established a People’s Armed Forces Department (AFD) under the management of the PLA Shanghai Garrison. This follows similar AFDs established by other state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in cities like Wuhan and Huizhou this year.

Chinese law allows for establishment of AFDs for purposes of enterprise security and emergency management. Some believe the recent trend represents Beijing’s response to growing social unrest or civil rights activism. Others have wondered if the trend is in preparation for greater “management [of society] by the military.”

The AFD of the Shanghai Group, whose business focuses on urban construction and infrastructure, was established on September 28th with PLA officers present. An attending PLA official requested that the AFD help “grasp the political nature of the Party’s armed forces work.” Commentator Bi Xin provided the interpretation that AFDs are meant to “control unrest between the government and people.” It is plausible that military cooperation with an urban construction business such as the Shanghai Group could aid in suppressing potential unrest.

Over 20 SOEs have now established armed forces departments this year. In August, three SOEs in Huizhou set up a joint AFD. In September, the Wuhan Agricultural Group set up an AFD, noting that other Wuhan SOEs had done so as well. The Mongolian-based dairy distributor Mengniu Group also established a AFD in May.

Commentator Zhang Jianping said that “maintaining social stability” (suppressing unrest) is in the interest of urban construction and real estate businesses given how indebted the sector has become. He also remarked that AFDs are useful in that they provide veteran PLA soldiers with jobs, and that Chinese society has recently become more and more unstable and unlawful.

Source: Radio Free Asia, October 3, 2023