BEIJING • Two generals who sit on China's top military body have been excluded from a twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle next month, setting the stage for President Xi Jinping to carry out a further shake-up of the world's largest army.
General Fang Fenghui and General Zhang Yang were not among the 303 delegates to the upcoming Communist Party congress listed yesterday by the army's main newspaper.
Their absence, which follows Hong Kong media reports that they face disciplinary probes, signals that the generals have been taken out of consideration. That means Mr Xi could fill as many as seven seats on the 11-member Central Military Commission (CMC), the party body that runs the military.
Gen Fang, 66, has been one of China's most visible officers - accompanying Mr Xi to his first meeting with US President Donald Trump in Florida, in April - and was positioned by age and rank to rise further. Last month, he was replaced as chief of the army's Joint Staff Department by General Li Zuocheng.
The openings could help Mr Xi cement control over the more than two million-member People's Liberation Army, as he presses ahead with the most sweeping military overhaul in six decades.
The party congress slated to begin on Oct 18 gives Mr Xi a chance to replace much of the country's leadership, including his first reshuffle of the CMC as chairman and commander-in-chief.
As many as five members of the top military body were already expected to step down under an unwritten rule marking senior officials for retirement after 68.
Gen Fang and Gen Zhang - the 66-year-old head of the CMC's political work department - are among five members below the threshold, which would have put them in contention for a powerful vice-chairman post.
Last Friday, Hong Kong's Sing Tao Daily newspaper, citing unnamed people from Beijing, reported that both men were being investigated for suspected breaches of party discipline. The Ming Pao newspaper said Gen Fang was being probed.
Gen Fang, who oversaw security for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, last appeared in public on Aug 21, when he received a visiting senior Thai military officer.
"If a CMC member hasn't reached the retirement age, but is going to miss the party congress, there must be some special reasons," said Mr Xu Guangyu, a retired major-general and now a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
No members of the top military body missed the last party congress in 2012. Since then, there have been prosecutions of two retired CMC vice-chairmen as part of Mr Xi's sweeping anti-graft campaign. General Guo Boxiong - once China's top uniformed officer - was sentenced to life in prison last year. Another, General Xu Caihou, died of cancer in 2015 while awaiting court martial.