Back to the Cheka: The Ministry of Public Security’s political protection work

Paper presented at the workshop “Mapping China’s footprint in the world IV”, organised by Sinopsis and the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute.


The PRC Ministry of Public Security’s core unit’s reversion to its original name in 2019 reasserted a tradition that goes back to Soviet state security. The early CCP borrowed political protection from its Bolshevik parent, as it sought to create a `Chinese Cheka’. It repeatedly invoked the concept to name its main secret police organ when it faced the challenges of pacifying newly seized territory. This latest invocation coincided with accelerated efforts to impose state security in Hong Kong, the party’s most recent acquisition. The political protection name signals renewed emphasis, rather than a new purview: throughout its history, however named, the MPS 1st Bureau has been tasked with combatting threats to party power. This classic secret-police role extends abroad, notably including influence operations. The MPS’s external presentation as analogous to democratic law enforcement agencies and the 1st Bureau’s use of fronts and linked units often provide cover for influence activity.

This paper presents new evidence and analysis of the recent renaming of the MPS 1st Bureau, the place of CCP political protection in the Soviet-inherited state security tradition, that tradition’s renewal as the party prepared to dismantle Hong Kong’s political and legal system, and the Bureau’s work abroad. Once the pervasive role of the political protection bureau in MPS becomes apparent, we argue, foreign cooperation with CCP-controlled justice and law enforcement becomes inseparable from collaboration with the party’s state security work.

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