China began a long-awaited shuffle of its seven regional military commands this month, the first broad shake-up in the People's Liberation Army since the Tiananmen Square crackdown last June. Western military attach'es are watching the ongoing shuffle, not yet formally announced by Beijing, for further signs that PLA hard-liners have tightened their grip on the Army since the Beijing massacre.

The balance of power within China's Army will be critical in determining who will win the succession struggle after the death of senior leader Deng Xiaoping, who enjoys unparalleled authority over the military.

Officers who backed the crackdown and are loyal to the hard-line Army faction headed by President Yang Shangkun and his younger brother, Gen. Yang Baibing, are expected to be rewarded with promotions, Western analysts say.

``If you are a friend of Yang Baibing, you are more likely to be promoted,'' said one Western military attach'e on condition of anonymity.

As secretary-general of the Communist Party's powerful Central Military Commission, Yang Baibing is directly responsible for personnel. He announced some of the latest changes during a tour of China's military regions in early May, according to the Hong Kong left-wing newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

Beijing occasionally rotates regional military commanders to prevent them from forming local power bases. The last rotation took place in 1985.

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