China’s former paramount leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly removed from Saturday’s closing ceremony of the Communist Party congress, a dramatic moment in what is usually a well-choreographed event.
Video of the meeting showed Hu Jintao, 79, sitting prominently at the front table of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, next to his successor, current leader Xi Jinping, as a staff member approached him.
When seated, Hu Jintao appeared to have a brief conversation with the male staff, while Li Zhanshu, China’s third-largest leader, sitting on the other side, put his hand on the chair behind Hu Jintao.
Later, Hu Jintao was picked up by the staff holding the arm of the former leader and seemed to stand up, and Kong Shaoxun, secretary of the Party Secretariat, came over. Hu had a brief conversation with the two and initially seemed reluctant to leave.
Afterwards, Hu left his seat accompanied by the two of them, the staff took his arm, and the other party members sitting behind the main table watched. Hu’s exit is unclear.
On the way out, someone saw Hu Jintao stop, as if he was saying something to Xi Jinping, and then patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li seemed to nod their heads. It’s unclear what Xi’s answer will be.
At one point, while Hu was still sitting, Xi appeared to put his hand on a document Hu was trying to reach to stop him from doing so.
After a while, Hu Jintao stood up, apparently after discouraging the two from leaving, Li Zhanshu seemed to want to stand up from his seat, but Wang, who was also a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, grabbed his suit jacket. Honey, sit next to him.
Hu Jintao, who retired in 2013, has become increasingly frail in public in recent years.
Because of the opaque nature of Chinese elite politics, the CCP is unlikely to make a public explanation for Hu’s abrupt exit. The dramatic moment was not reported anywhere in the Chinese media or discussed on Chinese social media, and the conversation was highly restricted. But it set off a hype overseas.
On Saturday, CNN censored in China when it reported Hu Jintao’s withdrawal from the meeting.
Hu’s departure came after more than 2,000 delegates to the National Congress rubber-stamped new members of the party’s elite central committee in a closed meeting, and after delegates were asked to approve party work at a meeting open to reporters before reporting.
The newly announced 205 members of the central committee do not include Li Keqiang and Standing Committee member Wang Yang, both of whom are considered protégés of Hu. That means both will retain their seats on the Standing Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, even though both are 67, a year below the unofficial retirement age. Xi Jinping, 69, was included in the list of the new Central Committee members.
Members of the standing committee will be announced on Sunday, the day after Congress closes. Xi, widely seen as consolidating power by eliminating rivals and weakening the lingering influence of other parties, is expected to be re-confirmed as party general secretary and surround himself with allies in an unconventional move.