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Marching order: photos give clue to next military line-up

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Unexpected absence ... nowhere amid the speculation is the name of General Liu Yuan, who had been favoured for a senior position.

Unexpected absence ... nowhere amid the speculation is the name of General Liu Yuan, who had been favoured for a senior position.

BEIJING: China's tea leaf watchers are turning to the performing arts for clues about the country's once-in-a-decade leadership transition, with a slew of military appointments expected to be announced within days.

In a throwback to the days of Mao, when promotions and purges were divined from the order in which leaders appeared in People's Daily photographs, political analysts believe they have gleaned the outlines of China's future military leadership from the order in which they were photographed after an evening at a Beijing theatre on Saturday night.

If the political analysts and theatre critics are right, one of the People's Liberation Army's most pivotal positions, Director of the General Political Department, will go to a dark horse candidate, General Zhang Yang, who is currently Political Commissar of the Guangzhou Military Region.

The crucial information was that General Zhang was photographed on stage two positions away from the actor who played Karl Marx and separated only by the current vice chairman (political) of the Central Military Commission, with senior members of the political department also in the audience.

Separately, the PLA appears to be using informal channels to telegraph other key appointments, including the incoming Chief of the General Staff.

The position is now expected to be taken by another dark horse candidate, General Fang Fenghui, who was a colleague of General Zhang in Guangzhou.

General Fang is known as one of the few close military proteges of President Hu Jintao. If his promotion is confirmed, one of his new deputies will be General Qi Jianguo, one of the few senior officers with war experience, according to the title with which he was introduced to a defence delegation from Finland yesterday.

Nowhere, amid the leaks and heated speculation, are the names of two key princeling generals, General Zhang Haiyang and General Liu Yuan, who had been expected to take senior positions.

Both men have impeccable princeling and factional connections, including with incoming party chief Xi Jinping, but may have been damaged by their association with their disgraced princeling associate, Bo Xilai.

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