Thousands of Chinese army veterans face a backlash from law enforcement agencies after being sent home from mass protests in Beijing last week, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party tries to tamp down what it sees as a major threat to social stability, analysts and veterans told RFA.
Provincial-level officials were ordered to Beijing last week to escort thousands of disgruntled People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans back to their hometowns following mass protests outside the party's military headquarters.
Thousands of veterans lined the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday outside the Central Military Commission (CMC) in protest at a lack of promised pension payments, medical and social security benefits.
Social media posts have reported a "backlash" against PLA veterans returning from Beijing to towns and cities in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong, the south-central province of Henan and Hebei, which borders Beijing.
"Anyone who believed in the government's promises has been taken for a ride, and now they're done for," rights activist Wang Bin wrote in a post on Twitter.
The veterans, most of whom were protesting local governments' failure to deliver on promises of jobs, pensions and healthcare after demobilization, wore camouflage uniforms, sang patriotic army songs and held banners from cities and regions across China.
Some were veterans of the Korean War (1950-1953) and of a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam, while others were involved in nuclear testing. They came from all ranks of the military, protesters said.
A Shandong PLA veteran surnamed Qiao said Wang's account of a backlash awaiting them at home was broadly accurate.
"It's the same treatment across the board, everywhere in China, with no exceptions," Qiao said. "They are taking the details of everyone who came back [from the protests]; they want to know how it was organized, who the leaders were, and all the context; the whole story."
Temporary hotel detention centers
Qiao said the authorities have set up temporary detention facilities in hotels to house the veterans while they question them.
The protests have been ongoing, but this month saw the largest yet, and rocked the party leadership in Beijing, commentators said.
Beijing-based democracy activist Zha Jianguo said the authorities are taking a two-pronged approach to the veterans.
"One the one hand, I think that the veterans are the group most likely to see some resolution of their grievances," Zha said. "But on the other, I think we'll see more and more official retaliation if they continue to kick up a fuss."
"This is definitely not going to be resolved in the course of a few months."
Veterans were sent home by CMC and provincial officials last week with promises that they would receive a response to their concerns from the government by Jan. 1, 2017 at the latest.
Political analyst Liang Jing said the issue is seen as a potential threat by the government, and highlights long-term systemic problems in China that include widespread official corruption.
"Neither the high-pressure stability maintenance strategy, nor President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign have been able to address the huge inequalities within the system for the distribution of economic benefits," Liang wrote in a commentary for RFA's Cantonese Service on Monday.
"The more people try to get their life opportunities by suppressing others, the more we will have a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," Liang wrote.
"This will leave more and more people angry and dissatisfied, and eventually all of that dissatisfaction is going to be directed at the government."
Stability maintenance budget grows
Liang said the mass protests in Beijing last week could have been the result of quiet collusion by local authorities who lack the resources to deliver on economic promises made by central government.
"If that's really the case, then the collective pursuit of individual rights, aided and abetted by local governments, could become Xi Jinping's worst nightmare."
Under the current system, Beijing expects local governments to take care of economic conflicts such as unpaid pensions, salaries and fraud, while central government insists on dealing directly with any potential political challenges to party power, Liang said.
China’s army of petitioners, who include PLA veterans, say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Local and regional governments employ teams of "interceptors" working out of representative offices in Beijing and other big cities to detain and bring home anyone who tries to complain about them to higher levels of government.
In 2013, the government's U.S.$124 billion domestic security bill outstripped the military budget.
But since then, Beijing has stopped publishing a total spending figure for its nationwide "stability maintenance" system, which refers to a plethora of law enforcement agencies, including state security police who target rights activists, political dissidents, religious believers and ethnic minority groups as potential "threats" to social stability.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.