The central role of China’s police force is to protect the Communist Party regime from popular uprisings, the country’s most senior police official has said.

Speaking in an address marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of modern-day China, public security minister Zhao Kezhi said that “maintaining social control” and “safeguarding political security” were top priorities for the security forces.

It comes as Human Rights Watch identified China in an annual report as one of the biggest threats to human rights worldwide, listing incidents in the past year where the authorities cracked down on individuals’ freedom of expression and public protests.

China stopped publishing its interior security budget in 2014, after figures showed it had outstripped military spending for three years in a row.

And while its police force has long been tasked with stamping out any challenges to the Communist Party’s supremacy, such efforts have intensified under Chinese president Xi Jinping, who has displayed increasingly autocratic tendencies, according to Human Rights Watch, and last year did away with presidential term limits.

Mr Xi and other party leaders attribute grassroots movements for political change to “Western” influence, and likewise refer to concepts like democracy as tools wielded by the West to further its own aims. In July last year, a court sentenced prominent political cartoonist Jiang Yefei to six and a half years in prison for “subversion of state power”.

“(We) must firmly defend our national security, with regime and system security at its core, and firmly defend the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and our nation’s socialist system,” Mr Zhao told the meeting of ministry personnel in Beijing.

China’s police must “stress the prevention and resistance of ‘colour revolutions’ and firmly fight to protect China’s political security,” he said.

The term “colour revolution” refers to popular uprisings experienced in the mid-2000s by the former Soviet states Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, which saw the removal of long-established rulers and the election of new heads of state.

Historians have since argued that these movements created periods of great instability without a corresponding breakthrough for democratic values.

Chinese officials have previously mentioned such uprisings as a warning to their own people about the trouble that might result from overthrowing long-standing governments.

The Xi government is pulling out all the stops in 2019 to show off the achievements of the People’s Republic as it marks its 70th year.

The centrepiece of the celebrations will be the Beijing Expo, a five-month long trade fair featuring exhibits from more than 100 countries and international organisations, which organisers say will attract 16 million visitors.

The Expo will run up until the 1 October, 70 years from the day the People’s Republic was founded, when Mr Xi will oversee a grand military parade in Tiananmen Square of “unseen scale,” according to state media.