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China's Newly Armed Cops Prompt Excessive Force Fears

China's government has given police officers firearms in response to terrorism concerns, but critics argue the measure only leads to more violence.
Posted at 8:48 PM, Sep 27, 2014

In response to the country's rising fear of domestic terrorism, China has recently been bolstering its police force, arming Chinese beat cops with firearms for the first time in decades. But are the newly armed officers causing more problems then they solve for China?

A recent examination by The Washington Post claims lack of training, lax regulations and a widespread fear of terrorist attacks have given law enforcement officers blanket authority to shoot first and ask questions later. The Post cites several accidental or avoidable police shootings that occurred after China relaxed its ban on firearms for officers.

One such incident might have occurred in China's Xinjiang region last weekend, after two bombs killed at least six people and injured dozens. Security forces responded by opening fire, and at least 40 people described as "rioters" by state media were killed by either the bombs or police gunfire.

China first began arming its officers after knife-wielding terrorists attacked a subway station in Kunming on May 1, killing 29 civilians and injuring 140. The initial police response was criticized in the aftermath of the attack. The attackers were only stopped after a SWAT team arrived on the scene. (Video via NTD, BBC)

The Kunming attack sparked a new fear of domestic terrorism in China, and in response, in April the Chinese government began equipping police with firearms. State-run CCTV reported the move was met with broad support from the general public at the time.

And the new guns have made for some interesting police propaganda. Kotaku points out one police department in East China seems to have taken marketing advice from some Hong Kong crime flicks.

But with the new guns has come a wave of violent clashes between police and the public. According to estimates by the AP, 323 people in Xinjiang have been killed in violent incidents since April — and almost half of those deaths were from police gunfire.

To be sure, China is hardly the only nation grappling with the consequences of a heavily-armed police force, as the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri aptly demonstrates.

And a companion article to The Washington Post's feature on China's armed police notes several officers are also uncomfortable about carrying firearms. One Chinese officer told the Post, "You have to worry about it misfiring, about it getting stolen or someone dying improperly."

One last tidbit; China is now one of about 50 countries worldwide that has a regularly armed police force, but does not track firearm homicides.

This video includes images from Getty Images.