Hu Jintao, China’s former top leader, was unexpectedly kicked out of the closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress on Saturday, drama during what is normally a highly danced event.
Hu, 79, was sitting in a prime spot in a video of the meeting when a staff member approached him at a table in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, directly across from his successor, current President Xi Jinping.
While seated, Hu appeared to have a brief conversation with the male staff member, while Li Zhanshu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee seated on his other side, rested his hand on the chair behind Hu’s back.
Hu appeared to wake up after being lifted by a staff member holding the former leader’s hand, while Party Secretariat chief Kang Shaoxen arrived. Hu spoke briefly with the two, initially reluctant to leave.
As other party members seated behind the main table watched, Hu was escorted from his seat by two men, the waiter holding his arm. The circumstances of Hu’s departure are unclear.
On the way out, Hu paused and appeared to say something to Xi, then patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder. Both Xi and Li seemed to nod. It is not clear what GG’s response was.
At one point, while Hu was still seated, Shi’s hand gave him the document that Hu was trying to reach to prevent Hu from doing so.
In another moment, after standing and debating with the two before Hu left, Li Zhanshu, China’s third-senior leader, attempted to rise from his seat, pulling on his suit jacket and pushing him down. Fellow Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning sat next to him.
Hu, who retired in 2013, has been publicly seen in poor health in recent years.
Because of the opaqueness of Chinese elite politics, the party is unlikely to provide a public explanation for Hu’s sudden ouster. This dramatic moment was not reported anywhere in the Chinese media, nor was it discussed on Chinese social media, where such conversation is highly restricted. But it has sparked a storm of speculation abroad.
CNN was censored in China over Hu’s departure from Saturday’s meeting.
Hu’s departure came after more than 2,000 congressmen rubber-stamped the new members of the party’s top central committee during a private session.
The newly announced 205-member Central Committee does not include Li Keqiang and fellow Standing Committee member Wang Yang, both of whom are considered supporters of Hu. Although both are 67, a year short of the unofficial retirement age, neither will retain their seats on the party’s top decision-making body, the Standing Committee. Ji, 69, has been added to the list of new central committee members.
The lineup of the standing committee will be released on Sunday, a day after the conclusion of the Congress. Xi, who is widely seen as consolidating power by eliminating rivals and reducing the lingering influence of party elders, is expected to be reconfirmed as party leader in a norm-breaking move and surround himself with allies.