Lieutenant General Cai Yingting is one of the PLA's six deputy chiefs of staff. He served the Nanjing Military Command for over 30 years

Analysis: Lieutenant General Cai Yingting's United States visit signals promotion

Cai Yingting, who is on the second high-level PLA tour in recent months, is seen to become chief of general staff after party congress

A visit to America by a rising star in the People's Liberation Army, amid increased tensions between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes in the East China and South China seas, is likely to herald his further promotion.

Lieutenant General Cai Yingting , one of six deputy chiefs of general staff, began his tour on Monday, Xinhua said.

It is the second high-ranking visit to the United States by PLA top brass in recent months, following a visit by Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie , a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC), in early May.

said the delegation Cai heads would visit the US army base at Fort Hood, Texas, and other military facilities.

The tour is being seen as a prelude to the further promotion of Cai, 58, following the Communist Party's 18th national congress later this year.

Two lieutenant generals who accompanied Cai are viewed as strong contenders to become commanders of one of the seven military commands in a reshuffle expected after the party congress. The two men are Wang Ning , the 57-year-old chief of staff of the Beijing military command, and Jia Xiaowei , the 59-year-old chief of staff of the Guangzhou command.

Although Cai is the least experienced of the PLA's deputy chiefs of general staff, he is the favourite to become first deputy chief of the general staff after the party congress.

General Zhang Qinsheng , 64, the first deputy chief of general staff, is likely to retire this year. He reportedly vented his anger in front of President Hu Jintao , the CMC chairman, at a Lunar New Year banquet attended by many top officers.

Zhang, who was once tipped to become defence minister, is said to have been drunk. He is believed to have been upset at not being among the PLA officers elected to the party's new central committee.

General Hou Shusen , 61, a deputy chief of general staff, is tipped to become head of the PLA's General Logistics Department, which would also secure him a seat on the CMC.

The other deputy chiefs of general staff - Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe , 58, Admiral Sun Jianguo , 60, and General Ma Xiaotian , 63. Wei is tipped to be named head of the Second Artillery Corps - the PLA's strategic missile force - Sun head of the navy, and Ma head of the air force after the party congress.

General Zhang Youxia , 62, commander of the Shenyang military command, is the favourite to succeed 71-year-old General Chen Bingde as chief of general staff after the party congress. But General Fang Fenghui , 61, commander of the Beijing military command, is also seen as a contender for the job.

Cai was chief of staff of the Nanjing military command before being promoted to deputy chief of general staff in July last year. He joined the PLA in 1970, and served in the Nanjing military command for more than three decades. He was secretary to General Zhang Wannian , a CMC vice-chairman, in Beijing from 1996 to 2003, the year after Zhang retired.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: General's U.S. visit signals promotion