Former Chinese president Hu Jintao’s congress exit a break from the Communist Party script
- The reason for Hu’s departure from the closing ceremony is unclear and prompted widespread discussion online
- The rest of the two-hour event went much as expected with the unveiling of the new Central Committee
While the exact reason for Hu’s premature exit remains unclear, footage of his confused departure was widely discussed online.
A reporter for state news agency Xinhua wrote on Twitter late on Saturday that Hu’s early departure was related to his health.
“Hu Jintao insisted on attending the closing session of the party’s 20th national congress, despite the fact that he has been taking time to recuperate recently,” the reporter wrote.
“When he was not feeling well during the session, his staff, for his health, accompanied him to a room next to the meeting venue for a rest. Now, he is much better.”
The episode was not reported in Chinese state media but in its evening newscast on Saturday night state broadcaster CCTV included a shot of the former president voting at the closing ceremony before his exit.
Hu’s exit was a break from the otherwise scripted event, in which President Xi Jinping was officially reappointed as party secretary for an unprecedented third term and the 2,000-plus delegates unanimously approved work reports.
A list of the 205 members of the new Central Committee – who will elect the party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo – was also released.
The five-yearly congress is the prelude to Sunday’s announcement of the seven people who will sit on the Politburo Standing Committee, the core team that Xi will have for his next five years in power.
In a sign of stepped-up preparations, the once-a-day Covid tests for members of the media have been increased to two a day since Friday.
But the centre of attention at around 11am on Saturday, when journalists were let into the main auditorium, was the 79-year-old frail-looking Hu, seated between Xi and Politburo Standing Committee member Li Zhanshu on the front row of the presidium.
According to footage by Agence France-Presse, Hu was approached by two staff who came to escort him from his seat.
He appeared confused and tried to hold on to the congressional document on the desk that belonged to Xi, as his own documents were handed to the two staff by Li Zhanshu.
Before Hu left, he was seen making a brief verbal gesture to Xi, to which Xi nodded and smiled.
Hu also patted the shoulder of his protégé, Premier Li Keqiang who is set to step down in March.
Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua, another Hu protégé, appeared unfazed as the former president walked past him. Hu’s surprising exit left an empty seat next to Xi as the event proceeded.
Hu’s frail appearance was a contrast to the vitality shown by party elder Song Ping, who at the age of 105 sat through the event.
As with the congress’s opening ceremony, 83-year-old former vice-president Zeng Qinghong appeared to be attentive to Song.
Former president Jiang Zemin, 96, and former premier Zhu Rongji, 93, were also absent again.
Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, the two Standing Committee members who are set to retire, sat back in their chairs.