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The real power over the People’s Liberation Army is exercised by Gen. Fan Changlong and Gen. Xu Qiliang, the two vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, the Chinese Communist Party’s ultimate power organ.

Next in line after those generals is Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff, followed by the leaders in charge of the military’s political, logistics and armament departments and then the regional military commanders.

By comparison, Gen. Chang is a relatively minor functionary whose position within the Chinese system is largely ceremonial and whose office is under the State Council that is separate from the military commission, the officials said.

The Pentagon declined to release the full itinerary of the 22-member delegation.

A spokesman said only that the Chinese visited the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs and the Pentagon.

Chinese state-controlled media reported this week that Gen. Chang’s visit included the “goodwill gesture” of allowing him to look inside the Alternative Command Center located at Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain, where U.S. nuclear warfare would be conducted.

The military-linked Phoenix television this week stated: “Washington has made arrangements for Chang to tour the nuclear bunker. Chang is the first Chinese defense minister to tour a nuclear bunker facility in the United States.”

A Northern Command spokesman, however, denied the report.

“This past Sunday morning, Gen. Chang visited the NORAD and U.S. Northcom headquarters building here at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs,” said spokesman John Cornello.

“The visit consisted of a short meeting in an unclassified conference room where the discussions focused on our mission of defense support of civil authorities and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.”

Gen. Chang and the delegation “never visited Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station where the NORAD Alternate Command Center is located,” he said.

Such a visit would be illegal under restrictions imposed by Congress in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act that prohibits Chinese military visits involving “nuclear operations” and other sensitive military activities.

China’s military has opposed the restrictions during earlier visits.

The restrictions were imposed after Chinese military visitors gained valuable war-fighting information in the late 1990s.

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