26 October 2016
On the same day earlier this month that China’s Defence Minister, Chang Wanquan, welcomed foreign military officials to the 2016 Xiangshan Forum, battalion-strong groups of Chinese civilians dressed in camouflaged uniforms surrounded the administrative headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) housing the Central Military Commission (CMC) along Chang’an Avenue in Beijing.
While media accounts differ on the actual turnout of petitioners — with some reports indicating a few hundred while others claim as many as 27,000 — the sizeable group of PLA veterans singing military songs and waving national flags was nonetheless a sight to behold, considering the stability-obsessed Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aversion to collective mass activities, both well-organised and which also span China’s geographical bounds. Accordingly, the protesters hailed from as many as nine different provinces.
As one of the largest mass incidents in the capital in recent history, how so many people could somehow find their way to the Bayi Building right under the CCP’s well-oiled internal surveillance system before changing into military fatigues on arrival remains a mystery.
Whereas protests by demobilised soldiers over remuneration and pensions are not new, the amassing of the regime’s former armed servants in Beijing’s main thoroughfare, seeking redress over perceived violations to their retirement benefits and “corruption related to their job allocation” nevertheless points to the formidable challenges that lie ahead before China’s military corps can evolve into a fighting force comparable with the world’s other advanced militaries.
… James Char is Senior Analyst with the China Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. Along with Richard A. Bitzinger, he is the editor of Reshaping the People’s Liberation Army since the 18th Party Congress: Politics, Policymaking and Professionalism. A version of this article first appeared in the Pacific Forum CSIS Pacnet newsletter.
IDSS / Online / Print
Last updated on 26/10/2016