China’s military veterans warned not to spoil 91st anniversary party for People’s Liberation Army

Deputy head of new ministry says he hopes ‘every veteran can respect the law and not threaten the stability of our society’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 10:41pm

On the eve of the 91st anniversary of the founding of China’s military, a senior official on Tuesday issued a clear warning to the nation’s millions of veterans not to use the event as an excuse to air their grievances regarding welfare rights.

Speaking at the first ever press conference held by the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, vice-minister Fang Yongxiang said there was no place for large-scale protests that were prone to being infiltrated by “people with ulterior motives”.

“We oppose the use of extreme moves to petition, and the staging of mass gatherings,” he said. “We hope every veteran can respect the law and not threaten the stability of our society because of an impulse.

“We hope that everyone can report their problems in a rational and peaceful way … and prevent radical words … and avoid being used by people with ulterior motives.”

China’s former servicemen and women have staged numerous rallies in recent months calling for better welfare rights. Many protesters have also claimed to have been assaulted by groups of thugs hired by local officials.

In June, thousands of veterans took part in a five-day rally in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, which some protesters said ended only when armed police were sent in to disperse the crowd.

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While authorities in the city had not admitted to engaging in or authorising attacks on protesting veterans, a military source close to the provincial government said that “more than 10 officials” involved in the rally in Zhenjiang had been punished for their handling of the event.

He said also that authorities in other parts of the country had increased their monitoring of veterans on the approach to the military’s anniversary on Wednesday.

“Governments in other provinces and cities have been on high alert to prevent any similar protests from being organised,” the person, who requested anonymity, said.

“To prevent any possible petitioning, household registration authorities have started calling [at people’s homes] and updating the information they have about veterans, to make sure they know their whereabouts.”

Gou Zhengguo, a former soldier who fought in the Vietnam war and now lives in central China’s Hunan province, said many veterans had been told they could gather to air their grievances, but not in public places or in large numbers.

“Some local authorities think that the civil rights movement by veterans, who only want better retirement benefits, is becoming more complicated and being used [as a front] by hostile forces from overseas,” he said.

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Despite the warnings from officials, hundreds of people last week staged protests outside veterans’ affairs offices in Shandong, Hebei and Jiangsu provinces.

In Jinan, Shandong, police officers were dispatched to block exits at the city’s railway station to prevent more people swelling the ranks of protesters there, according to video footage shared online.

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Zeng Zhiping, a military law professor at Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi province, criticised the authorities for being more concerned with breaking up protests than finding a solution to the veterans’ problems.

“It’s such a stupid and short-sighted move to highlight how much social unrest the authorities have successfully tackled,” he said.

“This kind of approach may be a credit on local officials’ lists of political achievements, but it will stir up more conflict between veterans and local authorities, and sow the seed for more trouble.”

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After decades of downsizing, including Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement in 2016 to axe 300,000 serviceman and woman, Beijing 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 former soldiers on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder. The opening in April of a dedicated ministry was intended to tackle their issues.

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At Tuesday’s press conference, Sun Shaocheng, the minister for veterans’ affairs, said the new agency would this year help 120,000 ex-servicemen and women find new jobs, and provide improved welfare packages for 10,000 retirees and disabled former soldiers.

On Friday, China’s finance and veterans’ ministry announced a 10 per cent increase in pensions for those soldiers who fought in either the Vietnam or Korean wars.