Chinese military veterans stage protests in central Beijing over pensions

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese military veterans have demonstrated in central Beijing for two days, demanding unpaid retirement benefits in a new wave of protests highlighting the difficulty in managing demobilized troops.

Hundreds of protesters, dressed in green and blue camouflage fatigues, gathered on Wednesday morning outside the Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, standing in rows and chanting slogans.

Reuters was sent footage of the protest by participants.

A smaller gathering of protesters congregated outside the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Thursday morning but they were swiftly dispersed, a demobilized soldier told Reuters, citing protesters at the scene.

Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang, asked about the protests, said the government cared about veterans’ welfare, attached great importance to resolving their difficulties and had done much to better their conditions.

“We believe that with further deepening of reform and continued economic development, the establishment of a better social security network and the implementation of relevant policies, the difficulties veterans encounter will be overcome,” Ren told a regular monthly news briefing.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection did not respond to requests for comment.

President Xi Jinping announced in 2015 the People’s Liberation Army would cut troop levels by 300,000, aiming to make the bulk of the reductions by the end of 2017, as it seeks to spend more money on high-tech weapons for its navy and air force and become a leaner and more strategic force.

Grievances over military pensions have been a long-running issue but have flared into organized mass protests with increasing frequency over recent months.

More than 1,000 veterans demonstrated outside Defence Ministry headquarters in Beijing last October, and reports of scattered protests across the country surface regularly.

Zhao Xinyue, a former volunteer soldier from Henan province, said protesters had traveled from all around China, but police had blocked many from reaching the capital.

Protesters said authorities were required to assign jobs to demobilized soldiers or provide benefits in lieu of jobs.

“It used to be as volunteer soldiers, when we returned home we had land,” Zhao said. “Now we don’t have jobs, no retirement pension, we have nothing.”

Large shows of public dissent in front of major government buildings are rare, and authorities in Beijing typically tighten security and restrict travel to the capital each year ahead of the National People’s Congress, which begins next weekend.

Chinese media did not report the protests, unlike in October when state newspapers printed a government statement promising to tackle the difficulties facing demobilized soldiers.

Previous protests by demobilized soldiers have included some who fought against Vietnam in 1979 and complained about problems with their pensions.

Many people try to use “petitions” to bypass the legal system and bring complaints directly to the attention of government officials, a process that dates back to imperial times, though some cases do end up in court.

Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel