China warns 'hostile forces' trying to undermine military reform

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s military warned on Friday that “hostile forces” were seeking to spread online rumors about the ongoing reform of the armed forces, which will see 300,000 soldiers laid off, and admitted some of the rumors were having a damaging effect.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping unexpectedly announced last September that he would cut troop numbers by 300,000, or some 13 percent of the world’s biggest military, currently 2.3-million strong.

The cuts come at a time of heightened economic uncertainty in China as growth slows and the leadership grapples with painful economic reforms. On Tuesday, hundreds of previously demobilized soldiers protested in Beijing.

The lay-offs are part of broader reforms to modernize the military, moving away from the old Soviet-era command module and putting more emphasis on high-tech weapons such as stealth jets and anti-satellite missiles.

In a commentary, the official People’s Liberation Army Daily said rumors about the reforms were flooding social media sites with self-professed experts spreading all sorts baseless stories such as how demobilized soldiers could get reduced benefits.

“The broad mass of the armed forces must clearly recognize that in the vast majority of these rumors there are online users unable to distinguish the truth, wantonly lost in fanciful thoughts and conjecture,” it said.

“But there are also no lack of certain hostile forces thinking of ways to try in vain to sow chaos in our reform process,” it added, without naming those hostile forces.

These fanciful stories have attracted the attention of many soldiers, some of whom believe what they read, the paper added.

“Some have been taken in, and worried about personal losses this has affected their work.”

Soldiers have a responsibility not to believe the rumors and only get their news from official sources, the newspaper said.

The government has repeatedly promised to look after demobilized soldiers, with Xi saying in June they would be found other work.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry