News >China

Low-ranking servicemen realize family reunions

2011-05-25 19:28

BEIJING - Serving in the Chinese Navy's Nanhai Fleet as a company commander, Ma Maofu has been separated from his wife for years, with the exception of occasional short visits.

He and his wife Chen Jianli, now six months pregnant, moved into a new apartment last month in a navy base in South China's Guangdong province, where Ma was previously stationed.

"When my child is born, I will not need to travel a long way back to my hometown to see my child and I can be around to take care of my family," Ma says.

Ma is among nearly 100,000 servicemen who have enjoyed or will enjoy family reunions, thanks to a new policy issued in March.

According to the policy, which was issued by China's State Council and the Central Military Commission, lower-ranking military officers, such as company commanders, are allowed to live with their family members while serving in the military. The previous policy, which was enacted in 1963 and revised in 1991, only benefited service members with a rank of vice battalion commander or higher.

The policy also allows officers serving in remote posts, such as missile and satellite test bases, to bring their families with them.

Tian Baofeng, an officer stationed in the city of Qingdao in East China's Shandong province, is quite happy with the new policy.

"For me, it will probably take three to four years to be promoted from a company commander to vice battalion commander. The new policy means that I can rejoin my wife three or four years earlier than expected," he says.

Gong Fangbin, a professor at the University of National Defense, says that the new policy can be seen as an effort to improve the welfare of lower-ranking officers and servicemen, who often serve in remote posts that are hard to adjust to.

"Traditionally, the Chinese armed forces emphasized patriotism and the devotion of its soldiers. But now, they have realized that the welfare of lower-ranking officers and soldiers can have significant effects on the cohesion and sustainable development of the armed forces," Gong says.

Wang Chengzhi, a senior officer with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Political Department, told the Liberation Army Daily newspaper in late March that family reunions will help officers to maintain their family lives, which will ultimately allow them to perform better when they are on duty.

According to the new policy, military spouses and children can move their permanent residence permits from their hometowns to where their husbands or wives are stationed.

In China, residence permits are closely linked with pension programs, employment and medical insurance.

The armed forces have also promised to help relocated family members to find jobs and help their children enroll in local nurseries and schools.

Self-employed military spouses will be able to enjoy tax reductions under the new policy. Unemployed spouses will receive a monthly allowance of 500 to 700 yuan ($103), according to the new policy.

"I feel that my future and that of my child is secure, since the residence, job and education arrangements are taken care of. That's why I decided to quit my job in the hometown and join my husband here," military spouse Chen Jianli says.

According to the PLA General Logistics Department, the armed forces will have to build about 90,000 new apartments to meet housing demands created by the new policy.

"The new family reunion policy is accompanied by housing and employment policies for military spouses, as well as policies concerning the education of their children. All of these need financial backup," Gong says.

He attributes the new policy to increasing defense spending.

"It is because the country has invested more in the defense sector that the armed forces are capable of improving the lives of ordinary servicemen," he says.

China's defense spending in 2010 stood at 518.23 billion yuan, up from 495.11 billion yuan in 2009.

The defense budget for 2011 totals 583.59 billion yuan, an increase of 9.6 percent over that of 2010.

According to a document issued in March 2010 concerning China's national defense, expenditures on active personnel and reserve forces accounted for 34.04 percent of the total defense budget for 2009.

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