Two military generals were appointed as vice-chairmen of the powerful Central Military Commission yesterday when the Communist Party's senior leaders wrapped up a four-day closed-door conclave which also formally expelled the disgraced politician Bo Xilai .
Fan Changlong, commander of Jinan Military Command, which oversees large parts of eastern China, and the former air force commander Xu Qiliang will join the party's top decision-making military body, Xinhua said in a report yesterday. The announcements were made on the last day of the seventh plenum of the party's Central Committee.
The plenum also endorsed an earlier decision by the Politburo to expel Bo, the former Chongqing party boss, as well as Liu Zhijun, the former railway minister, Xinhua said. Bo and Liu can now be expected to face criminal charges.
The plenum also promoted two alternate Central Committee members, Wang Xuejun, 60, deputy secretary general of the State Council, and General Wang Jianping, 58, commander of the People's Armed Police Force, to full members of the committee, filling the void left by Bo and Liu.
The 365 senior party officials who attended the secretive four-day meeting at Jingxi Hotel also discussed and approved an amendment to the party constitution, Xinhua said.
It did not identify the change, but there has been speculation the party may strip out mention of the late paramount leader Mao Zedong's ideology, known as "Mao Zedong Thought". The plenum communiqué did not mention Mao, marking at least the third time it has subtly dropped references to Mao since October, a move seen by some as sending a signal about the party's intent on reform.
The official report on the meeting otherwise shed little light on what of substance was discussed.
Fan, 65, and Xu Qiliang, 62, are both expected to be promoted to the Politburo at the party congress later this week.
It is widely believed that Xu is a protégé of former president Jiang Zemin, while Fan was a key member of the PLA's "northeast army" headed by the former CMC vice-chairman General Xu Caihou and also a close ally to the defence minister, General Liang Guanglie.
Anthony Wong Dong, a veteran PLA watcher based in Macau, said President Hu Jintao might have compromised by appointing Xu Qiliang to the top post in exchange for retaining the CMC chair for a year or two.
Given his relatively old age of 65, Fan was considered a "dark horse" in vying for the vice-chairman position and in beating a strong competitor, General Chang Wanquan, 63, former director of the General Armaments Department.
As a result, Chang would most likely take up the position as the defence minister, succeeding the outgoing Liang.
Additional reporting by Reuters