China's ruling Communist Party has promised a boost to benefits paid to veterans of its People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the wake of mounting nationwide protests by thousands of former soldiers who say they've been sold short since demobilization.
Veterans have been staging protests across the country ahead of Aug. 1, anniversary of the PLA's founding in 1927, gathering in Henan and Sichuan provinces since the beginning of the year, and converging in their thousands on Jiangsu's Zhenjiang city in a highly organized demonstration last month.
Some said they are already gathering in Beijing ahead of the Aug. 1 anniversary.
"They are all gathering there, but I was stopped by authorities in Dezhou yesterday morning at around 11:00 a.m. and held until nearly 5:00 p.m.," a veteran from the northeastern province of Jinan who gave only his surname Wang told RFA on Tuesday. "There are six of us in our party."
"Right now there are more than 20 veterans who arrived outside the veterans' affairs ministry yesterday evening, and our local governments have sent more than 50 officials and police there," he said. "The stalemate continues."
A second veteran contacted by RFA on Tuesday said he had been forced to go back home.
"I got on the train for Beijing yesterday, but now the state security police are here with me, and they are escorting me back home," the veteran said.
Under the new plan, monthly payments to sick veterans will increase from 500 yuan to 550 yuan (U.S. $73 to $81), while veterans who have served in combat will also receive an extra 50 yuan (U.S. $8) per month, bringing their stipend to 600 yuan (U.S. $89), the ministry of veterans' affairs said in a joint statement with the finance ministry on July 27.
Meanwhile, the annual pension for those disabled by wounds sustained in combat will rise by nine percent to 80,140 yuan (U.S. $11,758), the statement said.
Fang Yongxiang, vice minister for veterans' affairs, warned against "extreme" forms of petitioning by former PLA soldiers, however.
"We should actively prevent the occurrence of social instability due to temporary impulses, especially violations of law and discipline," he told a news conference.
Ministry official Sun Shaoxi confirmed that the ministry had received nearly 20,000 petitions in around 100 days since its founding.
Veterans said the authorities have stepped up "stability maintenance" security measures ahead of the anniversary, in spite of the promise to boost veterans' incomes.
A social media chat group used by veterans has been deleted continuously in the past few days, according to Shanghai veteran Wang Chengqi, who said he has been forced to go on "vacation" ahead of the anniversary.
"I was escorted by members of my local neighborhood committee to Zhejiang on vacation on July 27," Wang told RFA. "I was originally told I could return to Shanghai on Aug. 1, but I just got told today that they are extending that."
"A lot of veterans have been stopped from going anywhere ahead of Aug. 1," he said. "They only just set up the ministry for veterans' affairs, and I hear they're pretty busy ... I hope they will do everything they can to sort out our problems."
But Jinan-based Wang said there is still widespread skepticism that local governments, which have in many cases failed to deliver on existing commitments, will abide by the new rules.
"We are hoping that this isn't all just empty talk, and that this will actually be implemented on the ground," he said. "But governments at city and provincial levels often lie, and try to bamboozle veterans [out of their entitlement]."
A veteran from the central province of Henan surnamed Jiang agreed.
"They have a different policy in every location," he said. "Two people serving together would be treated differently depending on where they lived, sometimes to the extent of getting nothing at all [in some places]."
"That's why veterans have been petitioning; we wouldn't be seeing so many veterans standing up for their rights if they would only implement national policy, not a penny more, not a penny less," Jiang said.
"We're not going all the way to Beijing because we've nothing better to do," he said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.