updated 9/24/2007 3:46:21 PM ET 2007-09-24T19:46:21

China has named a new chief of general staff for its military, a commander once tasked with making war preparations against Taiwan, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

Chen Bingde’s promotion as the People’s Liberation Army’s head of day-to-day operations came in the past six weeks, in a transfer that was unusually quiet even for an institution as secretive as China’s military.

Chen, who had been head of the PLA department overseeing weapons development, replaces Gen. Liang Guanglie, whose new job was not clear but who, at age 65, reached the retirement age for all but the most senior officials.

An official in the Defense Ministry’s Foreign Affairs Department, who gave his surname as Wang, confirmed Chen’s appointment and Liang’s departure. He gave no other details.

The change comes less than a month before a once-every-five-years Communist Party congress.

President Hu Jintao, who also heads the party commission that oversees the PLA, is attempting to place his allies in positions of power, and the military is an influential player in the party’s often fractious politics.

Chen’s appointment also comes at a time of rising tension with Taiwan, the democratically governed island whose government split with the mainland communists 58 years ago — but that China has vowed to recover by force if necessary. Chen formerly headed the Nanjing Military Region, whose chief mission is preparing for war or other emergency military operations against Taiwan.

No official announcement
Despite the high profile of Chen’s new position, the appointment was not officially announced. The first news that he had taken up the job came in a report in Saturday’s edition of the official PLA Daily newspaper, describing a meeting with the visiting Ugandan defense minister. The article identified Chen as chief of the general staff.

Chen last served as head of the PLA’s General Armament Department, an overseer of the military-linked space program — a position he still holds, according to the official Xinhua News Agency’s Web site.

Xinhua also lists Chen and Liang as members of the 11-person Central Military Commission that Hu heads. Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper has reported that Liang may be promoted to defense minister.

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