The former president of China was publicly hauled out of an important political meeting last week. The Chinese government says he’d fallen ill, but was it actually a power play by Xi Jinping?
China’s 20th Communist Party Congress was a giant exercise in political theatre.
2,300 delegates from all over the country gathered in Beijing for a week of mass party meetings.
The Congress only happens every five years, so it’s a big deal in Chinese politics, because China is a one-party state.
It’s where changes to the party’s constitution are made and leadership reshuffles are announced.
This time, the spectacle was all to show the supremacy of Chinese president Xi Jinping, who was confirmed as leader for a third five year term.
“As China’s second so-called leader for life after founding Father Mao Zedong, Xi is staking a claim as China’s most powerful leader ever.”ABC News
Most of it took place behind closed doors, but journalists and cameras were allowed into the closing ceremony to witness a vote confirming that Xi Jinping is the “core” of the Chinese Communist Party.
The vote was, predictably, unanimous.
Inside the massive auditorium, row after row of delegates raised their hands to pass the motion.
But there was one person missing from the room when the vote was cast…
Just after the cameras started filming, Hu Jintao, the man who was president before Xi Jinping, was escorted out of the chamber by two officials.
“There was actually a bit of a high drama, at least by Chinese standards, during the closing ceremony. In videos and images we actually saw former Chinese top leader Hu Jintao, who is Mr. Xi’s predecessor, was led out of the room accompanied by two male staff members in the middle of this ceremony. Now because of the opaque nature of Chinese politics, we aren’t clear about the circumstances surrounding this very surprise moment.”CNN
Footage shows him looking confused and reluctant – like he didn’t want to go.
It all seemed a bit…odd…
Especially because in China, these kinds of events are normally highly scripted: there are usually no surprises.
It came as a shock to China watchers around the world.
Everyone was wondering what happened – and why?
“There was a remarkable scene on Saturday when Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao was abruptly ushered out of the room, appearing to resist before he was led away. The official Chinese news agency reports Hu was in ill health though many doubt that explanation.”NBC Today Show
There’s been a lot of speculation about why Hu Jintao was made to leave the meeting.
The official line from Chinese state media is that he wasn’t feeling well – that’s why he was escorted out.
The video evidence doesn’t disprove that explanation.
Hu Jintao is 79 years old and in the footage you can see that he looks frail and disorientated.
But if he was unwell, then why did it happen so quickly and in public?
The other interpretation is that all of this was staged.
Some China experts think President Xi had Hu Jintao hauled off to humiliate him… and to send a message that there would be no return to his era of leadership
There was definitely a lot of symbolism in Hu Jintao’s removal from the chamber.
Hu Jintao was China’s president between 2003 and 2013, and his time in office was very different from Xi Jinping’s.
Hu Jintao is thought of as a “moderate” who ruled by a system of “collective leadership”, giving officials control over the policy areas they were in charge of.
By contrast, Xi Jinping has focussed on amassing more and more power for himself.
If Hu Jintao’s removal was meant to send a message, it was that there is no other form of leadership in China anymore.
Xi’s way is the only way.
And that message was made even clearer when Xi Jingping’s new Politburo, the party’s central committee, was revealed on Sunday.
“His six top lieutenants, all men are also all Xi Jinping loyalists, evidence that he has now amassed more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.”PBS
Before the latest reshuffle, Xi Jinping’s cabinet still had two members who belonged to a party faction seen as loyal to Hu Jintao, a group called the “China Youth League”.
Now, the Politburo is stuffed with men who are all loyal to Xi Jinping alone.
His grip on power in China is now absolute.
This episode was written and mixed by Ella Hill.