China's President Xi Jinping (R) talks to former president Hu Jintao as he is assisted to leave from the closing ceremony of the 20th Chinese Communist Party's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 22, 2022 | Photo: AFP
Beijing: Former Chinese president Hu Jintao was unexpectedly led out of Saturday's closing ceremony of the Communist Party Congress in a dramatic moment that disrupted the highly choreographed event.
Hu's departure was left unexplained, and the nation's censors appeared to quickly scrub any recent references to him from the internet.
The frail-looking 79-year-old seemed reluctant to leave the front row of proceedings at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, where he was sitting next to President Xi Jinping.
A steward attempted to take a sitting Hu by the arm before being shaken off. The steward then attempted to lift Hu up with both hands from under the armpits.
After an exchange of about a minute, in which Hu spoke briefly with Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, he was led out of the hall.
A seated Xi was filmed holding papers down on the desk as Hu tried to grab them.
Hu patted Li's shoulder as he left, as most of his colleagues stared firmly ahead.
The week-long Congress occurred mostly behind closed doors, but Hu's departure occurred shortly after journalists were allowed in to cover the closing ceremony.
Authorities offered no explanation for Hu's exit, which came just before the 2,300 delegates at the Congress voted unanimously to endorse Xi's "core" leadership position.
"We still don't know what caused Hu's actions, such as whether it was opposition to Xi's power or simply an unfortunately timed senior moment," said Neil Thomas, a senior China analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy.
"So without more information it's hard to draw solid conclusions about how this incident relates to Chinese politics."
Search results for "Hu Jintao" on the Twitter-like Weibo platform appeared to be heavily censored Saturday afternoon, with the most recent result dated Friday and posts limited to those of official accounts.
Xi is all but assured of being formally announced on Sunday as the party's general secretary for another five years.
This will allow Xi to sail through to a third term as China's president, due to be announced during the government's annual legislative sessions in March.
Since taking over from Hu a decade ago, Xi has become China's most authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong.
Xi has crushed opposition to his rule inside the party, with many of his rivals jailed on corruption charges, and he has shown no tolerance for any form of public dissent.