Hundreds of Chinese military veterans stage fresh protests over pensions

Latest demonstrations held in Beijing over retirement benefits, amid huge layoffs in China’s military

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 10:57pm

Chinese military veterans have demonstrated in central Beijing for two days, demanding unpaid retirement benefits in a fresh wave of protests highlighting China’s challenge in managing demobilised troops.

Hundreds of protesters, dressed in green and blue camouflage fatigues, gathered on Wednesday morning outside the Communist Party’s anticorruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, standing in rows and chanting slogans.

Reuters was sent footage of the protest by participants.

PLA veterans stage another protest in Beijing over unpaid benefits

A smaller gathering of protesters congregated outside the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Thursday morning, but was swiftly dispersed, a demobilised soldier said, citing protesters at the scene.

China’s Defence Ministry, Ministry of Civil Affairs and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

President Xi Jinping announced in 2015 the People’s Liberation Army would cut troop levels by 300,000, targeting the bulk of the reductions by the end of this year as it seeks to spend more money on high-tech weapons for its navy and air force and become a leaner and more strategic fighting force.

Grievances over military pensions have been a long-running issue, but have flared into organised mass protests with increasing frequency over recent months.

More than 1,000 veterans demonstrated outside Defence Ministry headquarters in Beijing last October and reports of scattered protests across the country surface regularly.

Zhao Xinyue, a former volunteer soldier from central Henan province, said protesters had travelled from all around China, but police had blocked many from reaching the capital.

Protesters said authorities were required to assign jobs to returned soldiers or provide benefits in lieu of jobs.

Chinese PLA veterans’ protests for pensions pose test for President Xi Jinping’s modernisation plans

“It used to be as volunteer soldiers, when we returned home we had land,” Zhao said. “Now we don’t have jobs, no retirement pension, we have nothing.”

Large shows of public dissent in front of major government buildings are rare and authorities in Beijing typically tighten security and restrict travel to the capital each year ahead of the National People’s Congress, which begins next weekend.

Chinese media did not report the protests, unlike in October when state newspapers printed a government statement promising to tackle the difficulties facing demobilised soldiers.

Rare protest in Beijing appears to involve disgruntled soldiers

Previous protests by demobilised soldiers have included some who fought against Vietnam in 1979 and complained about problems with their pensions.

Many people try to use “petitions” to bypass the legal system and bring complaints directly to the attention of government officials, a process that dates back to imperial times, although some cases do end up in court.

National defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a press conference on Thursday that the State Council and the Central Military Commission are concerned about the veterans, saying measures are being taken to improve the livelihood of retired military officers.