General Fan Changlong, commander of the Jinan Military Command, has been tipped as a dark horse for a position as a vice-chairman of the army's powerful Central Military Commission after the party's 18th national congress, according to sources.
"Fan seems to have promising career prospects," said a source familiar with military affairs. "He is likely to secure a vice-chairman seat or, at the very least, be promoted to chief of general staff following the party congress."
A Beijing-based media source agrees, saying Fan, 65, recently became a relatively unknown contender for one of the top positions in the People's Liberation Army.
"Once he lands into the CMC's vice-chairman position, he will also be a member of the Politburo," the media source said. Being elevated to the 20-odd strong politburo of the Communist Party qualifies a person to the status of "party leader".
Both sources said another new vice-chairman would likely be the PLA's air force commander, 62-year-old General Xu Qiliang, while director of the army's General Armaments Department, General Chang Wanquan , 63, would likely be promoted to defence minister, succeeding outgoing General Liang Guanglie.
Chang was long considered the front runner to be a vice-chairman of the CMC. But some analysts say he may be given the lesser position of defence minister in an attempt to strike a better balance between different factions in the PLA.
Others suggest Chang may have been implicated to a certain extent by the downfall this year of corrupt Lieutenant General Gu Junshan, former deputy director of the General Logistics Department.
As a top-ranking military officer who served in the northwestern Lanzhou Military Area Command for more than three decades, Chang is regarded as a key member of the PLA's so-called northwestern army, of which members include General Guo Boxiong , vice-chairman of the CMC, General Fang Fenghui, commander of Beijing Military Area Command and Lieutenant General Xu Fenlin, commander of Guangzhou Military Area Command.
Following the northwestern army's years of dominating the PLA, Fan, considered an important member of the northeastern army after spending more than 30 years with the Shenyang Military Area Command, could assume one of the top army posts.
Military officers at Fan's level are generally not chosen to be a representative at a party congress unless they stand a chance of gaining promotion.
Fan was one of the top two 65-year-old military officers who were "elected" as deputies to the 18th party congress.
Fan was earlier tipped to be either the head of the General Armaments Department or end up retiring.
The other deputy who will be at the meeting is General Zhao Keshi , also 65, commander of the Nanjing Military Area Command, who was among the strongest candidates to replace Chang and oversee the General Armaments Department after the power reshuffle.