Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao unexpectedly led out of room as Communist Party Congress comes to a close

Hong Kong

Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly booted from the closing ceremony of a major meeting of China’s ruling Communist Party on Saturday in a dramatic moment during what is usually a highly choreographed event.

Hu, 79, was sitting in a prominent position at the front table in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, right next to his successor, current leader Xi Jinping, when he was approached by a staff member, it said in the meeting video.

While sitting, Hu appeared to speak briefly with the male staff member, while Politburo Standing Committee member Li Zhanshu, who was sitting on the other side, held his hand on the chair behind Hu.

Hu then appeared to stand up after being lifted by a staff member, who had taken the former leader by the arm, as Kong Shaoxun, deputy director of the Communist Party General Office and head of its secretariat, came over. Hu spoke with the two men briefly and initially seemed reluctant to leave.

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He was then escorted by the two men from his seat, with the staff member holding his arm, while other members of the party seated behind the main table looked on at the sight. The circumstances surrounding Hu’s exit are unclear.

On the way out, Hu was seen pausing and appearing to say something to Xi, then tapped Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li seemed to nod. It was not clear what Xi said in response.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other officials cheer during the closing ceremony of the party's 20th National Congress, as the seat occupied by former leader Hu Jintao remains empty following his unexpected exit from the hall.

At one point, while Hu was still seated, Xi appeared to put his hand over a document that Hu was trying to reach out to prevent him from doing so.

At another point, after Hu stood and chatted with the two men before exiting, Li Zhanshu appeared to try to get up from his seat, but was pushed back by a tug on his suit jacket by fellow Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning. , sitting next to him.

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Hu, who retired in 2013, has been seen in public in recent years in increasingly frail health. CNN was censored on air in China when it reported on Hu walking out of the meeting on Saturday.

Because of the opacity of Chinese elite politics, the party is unlikely to offer a public explanation for Hu’s sudden exit. The dramatic moment is not reported anywhere in Chinese media or discussed on Chinese social media. But it set off a storm of speculation abroad.

Hu’s departure came after more than 2,000 congress delegates rubber-stamped the new members of the party’s elite Central Committee during a private session and before delegates were called to approve the party’s work report during a sessions open to journalists.

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The announced new 205-member Central Committee did not include Li Keqiang and fellow Standing Committee member Wang Yang, who are both considered protégés of Hu. This means neither will retain their seats on the Standing Committee, the party’s most important decision-making body, although both are 67, a year short of the unofficial retirement age. Xi, who is 69, is included in the list of new members of the Central Committee.

The composition of the Standing Committee will be revealed on Sunday, one day after the end of the Congress. Xi, who is seen as having cemented power by eliminating rivals and mitigating the lingering influence of party elders, is expected to be reconfirmed as party chief in a move to break the rules and surround himself with allies.


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