The health of General Zhang Wannian was veiled in mystery yesterday, despite the National People's Congress voting him and five other generals on to the State Central Military Commission.
General Zhang and Defence Minister General Chi Haotian were made vice-chairmen.
Military analysts said General Zhang, believed to have been admitted to hospital after suffering a heart ailment, may have to put off planned trips abroad, including a visit to the United States.
The 69-year-old is a protege and principal military adviser of President Jiang Zemin, who was voted in as chairman on Monday.
Four other officers, generals Fu Quanyou, Wang Ke, Yu Yongbo and Wang Ruilin became ordinary members.
All seven held similar positions in the party Central Military Commission, which holds the real power over the military forces. The state commission is the public face of the PLA and largely a ceremonial office.
In spite of his apparent health problems, General Zhang received supporting votes from 2,907 of the 2,949 deputies present.
Twenty-five deputies cast objections and 17 abstained. General Chi, another Jiang loyalist, won 2,922 votes, with 22 objections and five abstentions.
General Wang, the deputy chief military commissar who was also Deng Xiaoping's military aide, received the largest number of negative votes and abstentions, 126 and 54 respectively.
Analysts reported an undercurrent of discontent against Deng's relatives and associates.
The pundits said that despite calls for a faster pace of military modernisation, the Jiang leadership had balked at introducing steps to 'civilianise' the PLA.
However, they said a small step was taken recently when a civilian, former vice-finance minister Liu Jibin, was made head of the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.
Yesterday's polls also signalled the formal retirement of Jiang foes, generals Liu Huaqing and Zhang Zhen.
They stepped down from their positions on the party military commission after the 15th Party Congress.