A senior military commander once believed to have close ties to disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai was recently promoted. This followed a high-level military investigation launched in April to determine whether there were connections between Bo and the military in the nation's southwest.
Major General Zhou Xiaozhou , who had been commander of the PLA's 14th Army Corps in Kunming , Yunnan , recently succeeded Major General Ai Husheng as chief of staff of the Chengdu Military Command, said a source familiar with military affairs. The source added that Ai had earlier been moved onto the roll as deputy commander of the unit.
The Chengdu Military Command oversees both Chongqing and Yunnan, as well as other southwestern regions including Tibet , Sichuan and Guizhou .
Zhou, 56, has generally been regarded as a close friend of Bo, who had paid a visit to Zhou's troops in Kunming the day after news broke on February 8 about the attempted defection to the US of Wang Lijun , the municipality's former police chief who was also once Bo's right-hand man.
It was unclear whether Zhou met Bo during the visit as the political scandal began to unfold.
Bo's father, the late Bo Yibo , was one of the founders of the 14th Army Corps, and the younger Bo had boasted of his ties with the unit. The son of late Lieutenant General Zhou Yibing , who was the commander of the Beijing military region during the June 4 crackdown, Zhou Xiaozhou is widely seen as one of the nation's powerful 'princelings' - children of senior Communist Party figures.
The Central Military Commission, the PLA's top decision-making body, sent a total of five task forces in early April to investigate Bo's suspected links to the Chengdu Military Command, another source in Chengdu said earlier, adding that the 14th Army Corps had been subject to the investigation.
Referring to Zhou's promotion, the first military source said: 'It may suggest that Zhou, in fact, managed his troops well and prevented them from becoming a force of Bo's. And it also shows that Zhou has toed the party line.'
The source also said that Zhou was tipped to be on the shortlist for promotion to the rank of lieutenant general this month, ahead of the August 1 anniversary of the founding of the PLA.
But Macau-based International Military Association president Antony Wong Dong suggested otherwise, saying that Zhou was unlikely to be further promoted within the next year or two.
'In the run-up to the party's 18th national congress, the central leaders may be offering Zhou some benefits, to stabilise the army and to avoid a possible rebellion, despite the chances of a coup being slim.'
Chiefs of staff, rather than deputy commanders, have been best placed in recent years to become commander of one of the seven military commands across the country.
For instance, General Fang Fenghui, General Wang Guosheng , General Zhao Keshi and General Xu Fenlin - who are the commanders of the military regions of Beijing, Lanzhou, Nanjing and Guangzhou respectively - were all chiefs of staff before assuming their current posts.
Ai filled a vacancy left by Lieutenant General Ruan Zhibo, who became ill and died in May at the relatively young age of 62.