RE­PLACED IN HONG KONG

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY MILES YU

Maj. Gen. Liu Xiao­jun, the high-fly­ing com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army con­tin­gent in free­wheel­ing Hong Kong, was abruptly re­lieved of com­mand re­cently and re­as­signed to the Guangzhou Mil­i­tary Re­gion in a new po­si­tion be­lieved to be mostly cer­e­mo­nial.

His re­place­ment is a Rus­sian-trained PLA gen­eral known for his in­ti­mate knowl­edge of Hong Kong af­fairs.

Gen. Liu’s re­lief, two years ear­lier than the usual four-year stint, came two weeks af­ter a mass demon­stra­tion in Hong Kong de­mand­ing demo­cratic elec­tions. Bei­jing of­fered no of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tions about the mil­i­tary move.

As the ul­ti­mate sym­bol of China’s sov­er­eign con­trol over the for­mer Bri­tish colony, the PLA’s Hong Kong Gar­ri­son com­mands about 6,000 troops.

The gar­ri­son is in charge of de­fend­ing Hong Kong but not polic­ing the city, and should not in­ter­fere in lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive af­fairs in ac­cor­dance with the Hong Kong Ba­sic Law — the agree­ment be­tween Great Bri­tain and China that went into ef­fect July 1, 1997, when Hong Kong was re­turned to China.

How­ever, the PLA Hong Kong Gar­ri­son in re­cent years has pro­moted “pa­tri­o­tism” by ex­pand­ing its pub­lic pro­file and out­reach net­works, which has un­nerved some Hong Kong res­i­dents, a large num­ber of whom have been po­lit­i­cal refugees from the com­mu­nist coun­try since 1949.

Be­cause of this, the gar­ri­son has in­creas­ingly be­come a tar­get of protests against China’s en­croach­ment on Hong Kong’s free­doms. On oc­ca­sion an­gry pro­test­ers have pen­e­trated the bar­racks’ se­cu­rity lines and stormed gar­ri­son head­quar­ters. Some have car­ried for­mer Bri­tish colo­nial flags, caus­ing high-pitched re­bukes from Bei­jing’s state me­dia.

Yet the com­mand­ing gen­eral in Hong Kong is one of the most sen­si­tive and pow­er­ful po­si­tions for the en­tire PLA es­tab­lish­ment.

The po­si­tion can serve as the most lu­cra­tive chan­nel for smug­gling, money laun­der­ing and other il­licit ac­tions within the PLA, as the re­cently ex­posed ar­rests of a long list of se­nior of­fi­cials shows. One was the high­est rank­ing mil­i­tary of­fi­cer as re­cently as two years ago, for­mer vice chair­man of the Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion Gen. Xu Cai­hou, who was ex­pelled from the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party on July 1 and trans­ferred to a se­cret tri­bunal for “eco­nomic crimes and cor­rup­tion.”

The down­fall of Gen. Xu, who was in charge of the PLA’s pro­mo­tions and po­lit­i­cal af­fairs from 2004 to 2012, has trig­gered a wide­spread purge of his pro­teges and stal­warts across the PLA es­tab­lish­ment, with the ar­rests and de­ten­tion of more than a dozen se­nior of­fi­cers al­leged to have been Gen. Xu’s as­so­ciates or part­ners in crime.

Spec­u­la­tion abounds as to whether Gen. Liu’s re­lief of com­mand in Hong Kong is re­lated to the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and purge within the PLA.

Maj. Gen. Tan Ben­hong, re­cently the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the Hainan Mil­i­tary District, takes over as com­man­der in Hong Kong. Gen. Tan once served as chief of staff for the PLA’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer in Hong Kong in 2007. He re­ceived mil­i­tary train­ing in Rus­sia, and is be­lieved to be an adroit player in mil­i­tary pol­i­tics.

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