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China names new military chief of staff, officers in reshuffle

BEIJING -- China's Defense Ministry announced Thursday further reshuffling of the top military bosses, reflecting bargaining among the country's top leadership ahead of a power transfer next month.

The heads of four top army departments were changed, with the new appointees certain to gain a position on China's highest military body, the Central Military Commission.

The Defense Ministry announced that Fang Fenghui is taking over as chief administrator of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) with responsibilities for supervising recruiting, training and other key functions.

The appointment puts Fang, a former head of the military region that includes Beijing, firmly on track for a position on the Central Military Commission overseeing the 2.3 million-member PLA. The new lineup of the 12-member body led by Communist Party leader Hu Jintao will be announced at the party's national congress, which begins Nov. 8.

The appointments were long anticipated as part of the transition to incoming party leader Xi Jinping, who, despite taking over the reins, is believed to have relatively little say in the naming of new military leaders. Instead, the selections reflect the choices of Hu, who oversaw the advancement of officers such as Fang during his decade in power.

Hu promoted Fang to full general in 2010, one year after commanding an elaborate and highly prestigious military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the communist state.

The PLA's three other top army staff positions also received new directors. Zhao Keshi was named head of logistics, Zhang Youxia as head of armaments, and Zhang Yang as director of the political department, the ministry said. Following precedent, they too can expect seats on the Central Military Commission, along with the heads of the air force, navy, and missile force known as the Second Artillery.

Several other deputy positions were announced, and the ministry earlier named former fighter pilot Ma Xiaotian to lead China's air force, which has become increasingly vital to China's defense strategy.

Zhang Youxia, 62, a general thought to have close ties with Xi Jinping, who is set to take over as leader of China's ruling Communist party next month, became head of the Armaments Department, which oversees weapons procurement.

The appointment clears a path for the department's previous head, Chang Wanquan, 63, considered to be a protege of outgoing Communist party leader Hu Jintao, to become a powerful vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The position of vice-chairman traditionally ensures a seat on China's Politburo, a group of 25 people who oversee the ruling Communist party. The Politburo is set for a major reshuffle at the party's congress next month.

Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at Britain's University of Nottingham, said the appointments reflected a sidelining of more extreme commanders, as well as continued bargaining between Xi and Hu.

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