18th Party Congress

General Fan Changlong tipped for top post in China military commission

General Fan Changlong is tipped to become a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and in turn move into the powerful Politburo

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 4:17am

The commander of the PLA's Jinan Military Area Command, General Fan Changlong, is being seen as a "dark horse" for one of the two military vice-chairmanships of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) after next month's Communist Party leadership transition.

Fan has been "elected" one of the 2,270 delegates to the party's five-yearly national congress, which will begin on November 8, and it is generally believed that marks him for further promotion, despite his relatively advanced age - 65.

A source familiar with military affairs said Fan's career prospects seemed promising. "He is likely to secure a vice-chairman's seat or, at the very least, be promoted to chief of general staff following the party congress," the source said.

If Fan does become one of the CMC's three vice-chairmen - two of them from the PLA - he will also become a member of the party's powerful Politburo, which will rule the country for the next five years.

Apart from General Zhao Keshi, commander of the Nanjing Military Area Command, other top brass of the same rank and age as Fan - including Admiral Tong Shiping, deputy director of the People's Liberation Army's general political department, General Wang Guosheng, commander of the Lanzhou Military Area Command, General Chen Guoling, political commissar of the Nanjing Military Area Command, and General Deng Changyou, political commissar of the air force - failed to be named as delegates to the party congress.

Normally, a provincial- or ministerial-level official - which includes the commanders of military areas - faces the prospect of imminent retirement when they reach the age of 63, unless they have bright political prospects.

Some military watchers say that suggests Zhao could become director of the PLA's general logistics department or the general armaments department - and a member of the CMC - after the leadership shake-up.

Fan is more experienced than the commanders of the six other military regions but is not yet a member of the CMC, so if he is elevated to CMC vice-chairman it would be a ground-breaking two-step promotion.

He joined the PLA as a rank-and-file soldier with the 16th Army Corps in the Shenyang Military Area Command in January 1969.

Zhao Hongfu, a formerly mid-ranking officer who enlisted at the same time as Fan, once reminisced about their days as fresh recruits.

He wrote that in a group discussion about the conflict between China and the former Soviet Union over the sovereignty of Zhenbao Island on the Ussuri River, Fan said: "If you have chosen to be a serviceman as your profession, your life no longer totally belongs to you from then on.

"From the moment you put pen to the recruitment form, you have actually struck a deal with the mother country and compatriots that you have surrendered the right to control and use your own life."

Zhao said he was deeply impressed by Fan's resolve and devotion to the army.

Liu Wenshan , another comrade when Fan was a fresh recruit, told the Yalujiang Evening News, based in their hometown of Dandong in Liaoning, that Fan phoned him and chatted for a long time during the Spring Festival in 2010 before sending him his regards.

Liu said he was moved that Fan, who was commander of the Jinan Military Area Command by then, still missed friends he had made four decades earlier.

Fan became commander of the 16th Army Corps in 1995 and five years later became chief of staff of the Shenyang Military Area Command. He left the northeastern military region three years later, when he became an assistant to then chief of general staff General Liang Guanglie - now China's defence minister.

After having spent three decades in the Shenyang Military Area Command, Fan is regarded as a prominent member of the "northeast army" - a powerful faction in the PLA headed by General Xu Caihou, a vice-chairman of the CMC.

Conversely, the Lanzhou Military Area Command has long been seen as the power base of the "northwest army" faction - which boasts top brass including CMC vice-chairman General Guo Boxiong, General Chang Wanquan, director of the general armaments department and a member of the CMC, General Fang Fenghui, commander of the Beijing Military Area Command, and Lieutenant General Xu Fenlin, commander of the Guangzhou Military Area Command.

Pundits said that making Fan a CMC vice-chairman, instead of Chang - long tipped to succeed his mentor Guo - would strike a better balance between different factions in the army.

Fan became commander of the Jinan Military Area Command in 2004, after serving at the General Staff Headquarters in Beijing for less than a year.

One of the main tasks of the Jinan Military Area Command, thanks to its ability to mobilise quickly and deploy airborne troops, is to serve as a supporting force for military or emergency missions. That saw Fan play a key role in the emergency relief efforts after a magnitude-8 earthquake struck Sichuan province in May 2008, killing nearly 80,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands injured.

Troops from the Jinan Military Area Command who parachuted into the quake zone led the relief effort in many remote villages that were cut off from the outside world and running low on food and water.

General Chen Bingde, the chief of general staff, revealed in a memoir published in 2010 that he bypassed routine procedures and called Fan at 9.34pm on May 12, seven hours after the quake struck, ordering two army corps from the Jinan Military Area Command to prepare immediately for a disaster relief mission in the quake zone and "await orders to set out at any time".

More than 20,000 soldiers from Jinan military region were sent to the area, with most going to Beichuan county, one of the most badly affected areas.

Fan went to the disaster's frontline on May 14, becoming one of only a few high-ranking military officers who rushed to the scene and served as on-the-spot commanders of relief work.

Others who played similar roles included Guo, air force commander General Xu Qiliang, Deng, General Li Shiming, commander of the Chengdu Military Area Command, General Zhang Haiyang, then political commissar of Chengdu Military Area Command, General Liu Dongdong, then political commissar of the Jinan Military Area Command and General Wu Shuangzhan, then commander of the People's Armed Police Force.