- Tan Benhong appointed as inspector of Southern Theatre Command – a role described as having little real power – and will remain a lieutenant general
- Military sources say that Chinese military is ‘readjusting’ the status of the garrison to bring it into line with the rest of the armed forces
The former commander of the People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong has been appointed as an inspector of the Southern Theatre Command " but unlike his predecessors he has not been promoted, according to a Chinese military source.
In April the official news agency Xinhua reported that Tan Benhong has been replaced by Chen Daoxiang, but did not say what his next posting would be.
While previous garrison commanders continued to rise after leaving Hong Kong, the military source said Tan would remain a lieutenant general and "will only keep his ranking as a regional deputy commander".
The source, who met Tan recently, described him as being "in low spirits because he did not get the promotion he had expected".
Other military sources have said that Tan's new job carries little real power, and also predicted that his successor, formerly deputy chief of staff with the Southern Theatre Command, was similarly unlikely to be promoted.
They said that the status of the Hong Kong garrison had previously been "upgraded" to reflect the heightened importance attached to it after the end of British colonial rule but the PLA was now "readjusting" its status to bring it into line with the rest of the military.
Tan, 62, joined the PLA when he was 19, and spent more than three decades serving in the former Guangzhou Military Command's 42nd Group Army.
In 1997 he was sent to study administrative management at the Communist Party School in Beijing and four years later went to Russia to study military joint operations.
Six years later, he was transferred to the Hong Kong garrison where he became a chief of staff, but soon returned to the 42nd Group Army as deputy commander and was promoted to the rank of major general.
In July 2014, Tan was named the sixth commander of Hong Kong garrison, replacing Lieutenant General Wang Xiaojun, and a year later he was also made a lieutenant general.
Three military sources said that Chen, the new garrison commander, was unlikely to receive a similar promotion and would instead remain a major general.
"The Central Military Commission is going to adjust the military ranks of officers of the Hong Kong garrison to match its size, similar to that of their counterparts in Macau," said one of the sources, pointing out that all commanders in the former Portuguese colony have been major generals.
"Normally, a deputy commander of a region commands a group army with about 30,000 to 50,000 troops but the Hong Kong garrison is only about 7,000 to 8,000 strong."
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming would not confirm the rank adjustments but said that the Hong Kong garrison had initially been upgraded compared with other PLA units.
"It was because Beijing highly valued Hong Kong at the time of the (1997) handover," Zhou said, adding that the commanders' ranks in Macau stayed "normal" when it was handed over in 1999.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said that it was "good and fair" to normalise the military rank of officers in the Hong Kong garrison.
"The size of Hong Kong Garrison is actually equivalent to a battle brigade. It would be over the top to give its commanders such a high rank," Wong said.
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