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PLA general who helped organise Hong Kong handover committed suicide in Shenzhen, sources say

A PLA general who helped organise Hong Kong’s handover ceremony in 1997 committed suicide in Shenzhen early this month, sources have told the South China Morning Post.

Major General Chen Jie, 54, killed himself by overdosing on sleeping pills, two separate sources said.

“He took a large number of sleeping pills on August 5 in the dormitory of a subordinate regiment in Shenzhen. It was a pity,” said a source.

But the sources said there was no conclusive evidence showing that Chen’s suicide was related to the corruption crackdown.

“Chen was a rising star. He was to receive a promotion on August 6, just a day before his death,” said a source familiar with the situation. He said the announcement meeting was abruptly cancelled after Chen was found dead in his bed.

Chen was the political commissar of a major army group under the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command. His funeral will be held in Shenzhen on Saturday.

Chen was the third senior PLA officer to have taken their life within the space of a week since the beginning of the month, according to information available to the Post. They come after the military’s corruption investigator launched a formal probe into General Tian Xiusi – the former political chief of the air force and a member of the Communist Party’s elite Central Committee.

Military watchers said the series of suicides suggested President Xi Jinping’s campaign against graft within the PLA had entered a second round. Two former leading generals – Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong –have been taken down in the past year.

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Chen joined the army at age 15 and went on to play a key role in Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997. He was one of the very few Chinese military personnel sent to the city weeks beforehand to help arrange the transition.

The sources said the British side were uncooperative and gave Chen and his colleagues the cold shoulder. He had to resort to local Chinese businessmen for help and was credited for organising a smooth ceremony.

One of the people Chen approached for assistance was Xu Zengping, a businessman based in Hong Kong who later went on the broker the deal for China’s first aircraft carrier.

According to an article Xu wrote, then president Jiang Zemin demanded the PLA garrison take over all facilities from the British at midnight. “Not a second should be lost,” the president ordered.

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To make that happen, Chen came up with a plan to ensure the Chinese flag was raised at all major government and military buildings exactly at midnight. But the British refused to let the Chinese side rehearse, according to Xu.

Chen was fast-tracked for promotion after the handover.

According to a second source, the first in the trio of suicides was a publicity director of a political office of the Southern Theatre Command based in Nanjing.

“I didn’t know his name. I just know that he drove a military car with his wife and jumped from the Fourth Nanjing Yangtze Bridge on August 10,” the source said.

Then in Beijing on Friday last week, Senior Captain Li Fuwen, director of the navy’s logistics enterprises management centre, leaped to his death from a building in the navy’s complex.

“These suicides were the effect of recent intensive probes into senior officials like Tian. Many senior officials were found to have close links with property developers amid the recent crackdown of the army’s paid-for services,” said Liang Guoliang, a Hong Kong-based military analyst.

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In March, the Central Military Commission announced the PLA and the armed police must end their so-called paid-for services within three years. Barracks and warehouses would no longer be rented out.

The system dates to the era of Deng Xiaoping, who in the 1980s shifted the nation’s budget priorities away from the military and towards economic development. To offset the reduction in funding, Deng allowed PLA troops to run businesses to increase income.

“Due to a lack of checks and balances, many officials with too much power colluded with property developers to receive kickbacks amid the soaring property market on the mainland,” Liang said.

Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said it appeared Xi intended to root out the political influence of Xu and Guo.

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He referred to earlier reports about investigations into two former CMC members – General Li Jinai, the former director of the General Political Department – and General Liao Xilong, the former head of the General Logistics Department.

Overseas reports suggested in May that both Major General Zhu Xinjian, a former secretary to Li, and Major General Liao Xijun, formerly a deputy commander of the Guizhou provincial military district and the younger brother of Liao, had come under investigation earlier.

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