Hu Jintao: the former Chinese leader unexpectedly led from the Party Congress

Hong Kong

China’s former supreme leader, Hu Jintao, was unexpectedly ejected from the closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress on Saturday, in a dramatic moment during an usually highly determined event.

Hu, 79, was seated prominently at the front table in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, next to his successor, current leader Xi Jinping, when he was approached by a staff member, video showing of the meeting.

As he sat down, Hu seemed to be talking briefly with the male employee, while the third largest leader in China, Li Zhanshu, who was sitting at his other side, had his hand on the chair behind Hu’s back.

He then seemed to get up after a staff member, who had taken the former leader by the arm, raised him, while Kong Shaoxun, the head of the party secretariat, came over. He spoke to the two men briefly and seemed at first reluctant to leave.

Then Hu Jintao was escorted from his seat, the employee holding his arm, the other party members seated behind the main table were looking at him. The circumstances surrounding the exit is unclear.

On his way out, he was seen pausing and seemed to say something to Xi and then patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li seemed to nod their heads. It was not clear what Shi said in his response.

Once, while he was still seated, Shi seemed to put his hand on a document he was trying to reach to stop him from doing so.

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At another moment, after he was standing and apparently protesting with the two men before he walked out, Li Zhanshou seemed to be trying to get up from his seat, but was directed downward by a pull on his jacket by Politburo Standing Committee member Wang. Huning is sitting next to him.

Ho, who retired in 2013, has been seen suffering from increasingly poor public health in recent years.

Because of the opacity of Chinese elite politics, the party is unlikely to offer a public explanation for Hu’s abrupt exit. The dramatic moment is not reported anywhere in Chinese media, or discussed on Chinese social media, where such conversation is severely restricted. But it unleashed a storm of speculation abroad.

CNN was censored on the air in China when it reported Hu Jintao’s exit from the meeting on Saturday.

Hu’s departure came after more than 2,000 congressional delegates stamped the new members of the Party’s elite Central Committee during a special session, and accepted the delegates’ invitation to ratify the Party’s work report during an open session to reporters.

The newly announced 205-member Central Committee did not include Li Keqiang and fellow Standing Committee member Wang Yang, both of whom are Hu’s subjects. This means that neither will retain their seats on the Standing Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, even though both are 67 years old, one year below the unofficial retirement age. Xi, 69, is on the list of new Central Committee members.

The standing committee’s lineup will be revealed on Sunday, one day after the conference concludes. Xi, who is widely seen as having consolidated his power by eliminating rivals and blunting the continuing influence of the elderly, is expected to be reappointed as party chief in a defiant move and to surround himself with allies.

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