Chinese president Xi Jinping's trusted general in line for top PLA role
Promotion of General Zhang Youxia would pave the way for military's transformation into a 'truly modern army'
The top decision-making body of the Communist Party is to use its ongoing meeting in Beijing to vet top candidates to lead the military after 2017.
The Politburo Standing Committee would use its fifth plenum to consider who would lead the Central Military Commission (CMC) after that date, sources close to the army said.
The composition of the 10-member CMC, whose chairman is President Xi Jinping, would be a key part of any reshuffle for the next term of the central leadership.
General Zhang Youxia, 65, director of the army's general armaments department and one of Xi's most trusted men, is tipped as the most likely new CMC vice-chairman for the president's next term from 2017-2022.
However, the chances of graft-buster General Liu Yuan being promoted to the CMC were "slim", three independent sources told the South China Morning Post.
The CMC is the top decision-making body of the PLA, and Zhang's promotion would smooth the way for Xi's ambitious plans to transform the PLA into a truly modern army, Hong Kong-based military observer Liang Guoliang said.
"Zhang is well known for his good character and sociability, which will help unify opinion to help Xi carry out his reforms," Liang said.
This month, the China National Defence Newspaper for the first time called for the PLA to learn from the joint command structure of the US military.
The South China Morning Post reported in September that a sweeping reform of the PLA would phase out its Soviet-style command structure in favour of a US-style model, and consolidate the army's seven military command regions into four.
Another source close to the army said Zhang had been tipped for promotion since last year because of his loyalty and similar background to Xi.
Both Xi and Zhang are Shaanxi natives and "second-generation reds" - the children of revolutionaries. Their fathers were comrades from the 1940s.
Zhang's father, General Zhang Zongxun , the PLA's head of logistics in the 1970s, commanded the PLA's Northeast Army Corps in 1947 when Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun , was political commissar.
The junior Zhang joined the army at 18 and was assigned to the renowned 14th Group Army based in Kunming . Within 16 years, he rose to the rank of colonel following his exploits during the 1984 border conflict with Vietnam. Among the 10-member CMC, only he and Defence Minister Chang Wanquan , 76, took part in the campaigns against Vietnam in the 1980s.
General Liu, the political commissar of the PLA general logistics department who heads the army's anti-graft campaign, is also a "princeling" - the son of Liu Shaoqi , a former president who was purged by Mao Zedong in the 1960s.
But, unlike Zhang and other senior military leaders who joined the army as teenagers, Liu joined in 1992 when he was 41.
Liu is said to be the man behind the downfall of the army's "three biggest tigers"- Gu Junshan , the corrupt former lieutenant general and deputy logistics chief, and former CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou .
However, two Beijing-based military sources said Liu's potential promotion faced "stronger resistance" because of his outspoken personality, and he "had offended many former and incumbent senior officials" amid the ongoing anti-graft campaign.
"The anti-corruption campaign is just the first step Xi wanted to turn the PLA into a proper modern army, and the next move should focus on reform, which needs more capable, younger and loyal generals to implement Xi's orders," said another source, who asked not to be named.
The third source said it was possible that the plenary session would consider the need for a third vice-chairman to prepare the succession of incumbent CMC vice-chairman General Fan Changlong , another of Xi's most trusted men, who had reached the retirement age of 68.
Fan is the PLA's second in command, subordinate only to Xi. The other CMC vice-chairman, General Xu Qiliang , 65, will keep his post until the 19th party congress in 2017, two independent sources said.
However, a fourth source said that Xi might keep both Fan and Xu until the end of his first term in 2017. In Xi's second term, Fan's No2 position would be filled by Xu, then it would be Zhang's turn to take over Xu's vacancy.