A Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) soldier stands to attention. Beijing is lifting pay for troops and aiming to boost welfare for disbanded servicemen with the creation of a Veterans Affairs Ministry. Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence

Beijing has created a Ministry of Veterans Affairs to dole out more welfare to China’s huge number of demobilized military personnel, as part of a sweeping bureaucratic reshuffle endorsed by the Chinese legislature.

The new ministry will take over matters previously in the hands of ministries responsible for civil affairs, human resources and social security and will discharge duties independently, rather than coming under the Central Military Commission, the command and control of the People’s Liberation Army.

Xinhua said the setting up of the new ministry is aimed at giving more privileges to veterans, to hail and honor their dedication and spirit, and try to ensure that servicemen get resettled, reemployed, and rehabilitated if injured or disabled.

China’s armed police and PLA soldiers are seen outside the Great Hall of the People. Photo: AFP

The new ministry is expected to model the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which was elevated to ministerial level in 1989 to administer an all-encompassing medical and welfare portfolio ranging from clinics to cemeteries for decommissioned generals and soldiers.

“The aim is to make national service an honorable occupation and accord veterans the respect and welfare that they truly deserve,” a People’s Daily commentary said.

Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, who is also top commander of the two million-strong PLA, gave a rousing speech when he met PLA delegates during this year’s National People’s Congress. He vowed that he would never let veterans who shed blood defending the nation weep after they retire.

Party General Secretary and PLA top commander Xi Jinping fills his bowl with rice during an inspection trip to a PLA garrison. Photo: PLA Daily

There has been a mass of layoffs and a disbanding of key regional commands since Xi took charge of the military and announced a shakeup of the PLA. In 2015 he announced a further 300,000 troops would be cut. But, his ruthless graft-busting drive, plus a draconian alcohol ban has also dented the morale of generals after they were stripped of cash perks and their favorite booze.

Another graver reality is that large numbers of retired troops are often caught up in job-market rivalry because of their lack of skills and/or detachment with society after spending years on insulated barracks. Pensions, allowances and cash handouts may not land in the hands of former servicemen and their families due to red tape and the mass of agencies and departments good at shirking responsibilities.

Thousands of PLA veterans staged a protest outside the Central Military Commission in Beijing in October 2016 to demand higher pensions and jobs. Photo: AP

Increasing petitions and protests by disgruntled veterans have worried Communist Party chiefs, so Beijing is anxious to mollify these unruly ex-combatants before some pose more crippling threats to the party’s rule than anything that the discontented masses might muster.

Observers had warned that a Chinese “Bonus Expeditionary Force” – a  historic protest by 17,000 US World War I veterans, plus their families and affiliated groups that massed in Washington in 1932 to demand cash-payment of their service certificates – may lay a similar siege in Beijing if the country’s communist leaders continue to ignore the simmering frustration among veterans.

Beijing recently boosted its national defense spending for the year by 8.1% to a whopping 1.1 trillion yuan (US$175 billion) and while a portion will go to developing or procuring advanced weaponry, a big chunk of the pie is set aside for the PLA’s payroll. The creation of a new Veterans Affairs Ministry is also a bid to placate dissension among the mass of military personnel who have retired or been made redundant.

Sun Shaocheng, the former Deputy Minister of Civil Affairs, is tipped to head the new ministry.

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