Military veterans vent grievances in Beijing protest

People's Liberation Army veterans gathering to protest outside the government disciplinary commission in Beijing on Wednesday. The rally is the largest within the city's limits since a rally last October.
People's Liberation Army veterans gathering to protest outside the government disciplinary commission in Beijing on Wednesday. The rally is the largest within the city's limits since a rally last October.PHOTO: TWITTER ACCOUNT OF RADIOFREEASIA

Rally underscores challenge Beijing faces in managing demobilised troops as it seeks to transform military

In the largest protest in central Beijing this year, hundreds of disgruntled People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans camped outside the government disciplinary commission to demand pensions and healthcare benefits they had been promised. Dressed in green and blue camouflage uniforms, the demobilised soldiers chanted slogans and sang military songs, foreign media reported.

The peaceful protest, which began on Wednesday, came ahead of the annual national parliamentary session beginning on March 5.

The rally is the largest held within capital city limits since a mass demonstration last October, when at least a thousand veterans stood for hours outside the Defence Ministry.

A smaller group gathered outside the Ministry of Civil Affairs yesterday morning, reported Reuters. But unlike the day before, the protesters were promptly dispersed.

The protests underscore the challenge Beijing faces in managing demobilised troops as it seeks to transform the world's largest military into a leaner and more agile force.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in 2015 that the 2.3-million-strong PLA will shed 300,000 soldiers, with most of the cuts targeted to be completed by the end of this year.

Demobilised soldiers expect to be assigned other work or to receive benefits if no jobs are available.

A resident who lives just outside the gates of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection told The Straits Times that "a large number" of people lined the street in front of the government building from 8am to 8pm on Wednesday. It was the first time such a big group had gathered there.

Shopkeepers said the people had started trooping in from 6am on Wednesday. They reckoned that there were as many as 5,000 people in military uniform.

But a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter who was there reported that the number was in the hundreds.

"There were so many people that we could not even open the door to our shop," said one shopkeeper. All the shops along the street had to close for business on Wednesday.

There did not appear to be any attempts to disperse the peaceful protesters, said shopkeepers.

"Some were standing and some were sitting around. I am not sure where they were from, but most likely from all over the country," said a shopkeeper, who also noted that it was the first time she had seen such a large protest in the area.

Mr Zhao Xinyue, a former volunteer soldier from central Henan province, told Reuters that the protesters came from across China, but many were prevented from reaching Beijing by police.

"It used to be that, as volunteer soldiers, when we returned home, we had land," he was quoted as saying. "Now, we don't have jobs, no retirement pension, we have nothing."

Following the massive demonstration last October, state media reported that the government had promised to look into the grievances of veterans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Military veterans vent grievances in Beijing protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe