China appeals to military veterans not to protest, respect law

BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese officer appealed to military veterans on Tuesday not to take complaints about their treatment to the streets and to “rationally” lodge appeals for redress.

At the annual meeting of parliament in March, China set up a Ministry of Veterans Affairs as part of a broader government reshuffle, aiming to better look after former soldiers whose complaints about poor treatment have flared into scattered protests in recent years.

In February 2017, Chinese military veterans staged two days of demonstrations in central Beijing, demanding unpaid retirement benefits in a new wave of protests highlighting the difficulty in managing demobilized troops.

There were also protests in the eastern province of Jiangsu in June.

Speaking at a news briefing ahead of Wednesday’s Army Day, which marks the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, Vice Minister of Veterans Affairs Fang Yongxiang said their door to accepting petitions about problems was always open.

“We also hope that everyone can rationally and moderately report problems, to ensure an even better resolution and prevent radical words and resolutely stop and prevent them from being used and coerced by people with ulterior motives,” Fang said.

“We oppose the use of extreme methods to petition or the carrying out of mass petitions,” he added, referring to protests. “I hope that every veteran respects the law.”

As the ministry gets properly up and running they will make more efforts to protect veterans’ rights and ensure they get the respect they deserve, said Fang, who is also a senior military officer.

Since being set up, the ministry has received almost 20,000 complaints lodged via its petitioning system, Veterans Minister Sun Shaocheng said at the briefing, without giving details.

The government has promised that veterans will be given preference when it comes to seeking jobs, an issue that has become more pressing since President Xi Jinping announced in 2015 the People’s Liberation Army would cut troop levels by 300,000.

Grievances over military pensions and perceived poor treatment of veterans have been a long-running issue, and have at times led to organized protests.

More than 1,000 veterans also demonstrated outside Defence Ministry headquarters in Beijing in 2016, and reports of protests in parts of the country surface every few months.

Demobilized soldiers who protested have included some who fought against Vietnam in 1979 - China’s last major foreign military engagement - and complained about problems with their pensions.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christian Schmollinger