Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao unexpectedly left the room as the Communist Party Congress draws to a close

Hong Kong

Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao was unexpectedly removed 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 head table of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, right next to his successor, current leader Xi Jinping, when he was approached by a staff member, video shows. of the meeting.

As he sat, Hu appeared to speak briefly with the male staff member, while Politburo Standing Committee member Li Zhanshu, who sat on his other side, had his hand on the chair behind Hu’s back.

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

He was then escorted by the two men from his seat, with the staff member holding his arm, while other members of the group sitting behind the head table looked on. The circumstances surrounding Hu’s departure are unclear.

On his way out, Hu was seen to pause and appear to say something to Xi and then patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li seemed to agree. It was not clear what Xi said in response.

At one point, while Hu was still seated, Xi appeared to place his hand on a document Hu was trying to reach to prevent him from reaching.

At another point, after Hu was standing and arguing with the two men before leaving, Li Zhanshu appeared to try to get up from his seat, but Wang Huning, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, yanked him back down. in his suit jacket. sitting next to him.

Hu, who retired in 2013, has been seen in public in increasingly fragile health in recent years. CNN was censored on the air in China when reporting on Hu’s departure from Saturday’s meeting.

Due to the opacity of Chinese elite politics, the party is unlikely to offer a public explanation for Hu’s sudden departure. The dramatic moment is not reported anywhere in the Chinese media, nor is it discussed on Chinese social media. But it has unleashed a firestorm of speculation abroad.

Hu’s departure came after the more than 2,000 congress delegates approved the new members of the party’s elite Central Committee during a closed session, and before delegates were called to endorse the party’s work report. during a session open to journalists.

The newly announced 205-member Central Committee did not include Li Keqiang or Standing Committee member Wang Yang, both of whom are considered Hu’s protégés. This means that neither will retain their seats on the Standing Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, even though they are both 67, one year less than the unofficial retirement age. Xi, 69, is included in the list of new members of the Central Committee.

The alignment of the Standing Committee will be announced on Sunday, one day after the closure of the Congress. Xi, who is widely seen as having consolidated power by weeding out rivals and dampening the lingering influence of party elders, is expected to be reconfirmed as party chief in a move that breaks the norms and surrounds himself with allies.

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