Former Chinese President Hu’s sudden exit from party congress continues to raise speculation

Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hu Jintao and Li Zhanshu, far right, speak as Li takes documents from Hu, while Xi Jinping speaks to an aide.

Speculation is rife among foreign media over the real reason former Chinese President Hu Jintao was escorted out of the closing ceremony of the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress in Beijing.

The Chinese government explained that Hu was taken out of the Great Hall of the People on Saturday due to his poor health.

Of particular interest is video footage taken by a Singaporean media outlet among other images that show the moments just before Hu was removed from his seat at the podium between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Li Zhanshu, China’s legislative head as chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

In the images, a seated Hu is about to look at documents, but Li to his left stops him and pulls the documents away along with a red cover. Li then places the cover over the documents. Hu seems then to reach for papers in front of Xi but appears to be prevented again.

Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hu’s right hand appears to reach for a document in front of Xi as Li and Wang Huning, far right, look on.
Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hu is lifted out of his seat by an attendant.
Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hu says something to Xi.
Koki Kataoka / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hu pats Premier Li Keqiang’s shoulder on the way out as Wang Yang, left, seems impassive.

In China, a red cover usually signals important documents. There is speculation in Western media that Hu was not informed of personnel appointments in advance. Premier Li Keqiang was among those close to Hu who were excluded in the personnel appointments for Xi’s third term as the CCP’s general secretary.

In the past, Hong Kong media and others had reported on suspicions that Hu is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Some have suggested that there were some problems about Hu’s movements, such as he mistook the documents distributed to him.

On Monday, when asked about the reason for his departure, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson simply said, “If you are interested, you can take a look,” referring to a Twitter post in English by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, which states that Hu left the congress because he was “not feeling well.”

The Chinese government apparently does not want any speculation to spread.