China drafts new law to protect veterans’ welfare, but will it pass muster?
Expert concerned the legislation will not go far enough to tackle the issues that drove thousands of frustrated retirees to take to the streets
China’s Ministry of Veterans Affairs has completed the first draft of a new law designed to protect the interests and welfare of 57 million retired members of the armed forces, state media reported on Friday, but observers are concerned it will fall short of its goal.
News of the document comes less than a month after armed police were sent in to disperse thousands of veterans who had staged a five-day rally in Zhenjiang, east China’s Jiangsu province, calling for better rights and an end to violence against them.
According to the report by People’s Liberation Army Daily, the draft, which comprises 83 articles in 11 charters, sought to tackle the key problems facing the nation’s veterans.
But Zeng Zhiping, a professor at Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi province, said he was concerned the new law would not get to the cause of the problems faced by veterans and that had pushed them to protest on the street.
“Veterans’ problems are long-standing and created by history,” he said. “There are still many war heroes that have not received the compensation and benefits they deserve, simply because they retired when China was still poor.”
He said that while thousands of ex-soldiers had taken to the streets to fight for their rights, many thousands more were too old or too weak to join them.
The new legislation should ensure that all veterans and their families were properly cared for, Zeng said.
Reports that a new law was in the offing came after two high-profile meetings were scrambled by senior leaders in Beijing in the aftermath of the Zhenjiang rally, which was staged to protest against violent attacks on campaigning veterans in at least 10 provinces earlier in the year.
A veteran who took part in the rally but asked not to be named told the South China Morning Post that while he was in favour of the new law he was unsure if it would be effective.
“We all welcome the lawmaking progress, but we’re more concerned about whether all the rules will be implemented afterwards,” he said.
Although no details of the draft have been released, the newspaper report said that the ministry on Thursday invited 10 representatives from both the People’s Liberation Army and veterans’ groups – one of them an expert in military law – to review it at a workshop in Beijing.
However, a source close to the military, and a former serviceman himself, told the Post that the so-called expert had no direct experience of legal disputes between veterans and local authorities.
“It’s a pity the ministry didn’t invite the human rights lawyers or defence lawyers who have helped veterans fight for their benefits,” he said.
“Only they understand the source of the issues that need to be considered [if the ministry is] to come up with a truly comprehensive law to protect veterans’ benefits.”
After several rounds of downsizing – the first of which began in the late 1970s when China began its programme of opening up – Beijing estimates the country now has about 57 million veterans.
Despite their huge number, a lack of legal protection and Beijing’s hands-off approach to welfare issues has left millions of veterans clinging to the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder for decades.
After several large-scale protests last year, which included thousands of veterans gathering outside the headquarters of the PLA in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to tackle the issue, and at last year’s national party congress announced plans for the creation of the new ministry.