Hu Jintao health: Former China leader linked to degenerative disorder since 2015
Xi Jinping has become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, after securing a third five-year team as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the conclusion of the 20th National Congress. But it is former leader, Hu Jintao that has attracted sensational headlines in western media and captured the attention of millions of social media users.
Hu Jintao was escorted off the stage of the Great Hall at the closing ceremony of the Congress on Saturday. It happened moments after the world’s media was allowed in to film the closing stages of the highly choreographed event.
One of the first reporters to break the news of Hu Jintao’s unexpected exit was Straits Times Beijing-based correspondent, Danson Cheong who filmed the incident on his phone.
It happened so soon after reporters were allowed in to the designated media area, broadcast cameras were yet to be set up.
“Early drama: Hu Jintao seen being led out soon after reporters are led into the main hall,” Cheong wrote
He later tweeted, “Gobsmacked by how the Hu video has blown up.”
The world’s media and social media users have since speculated that Hu Jintao is the victim of a Xi Jinping “purge”.
“How can we (United States) maintain ties with an unpredictable regime like China,” said prominent China commentator, Gordon Chang, in reference to the video.
While author of Foreign Policy’s China Brief, James Palmer outlined possible explanations for the exit, including two dramatic possibilities; Xi Jinping and his cronies found out that Jintao was about to abstain or vote against him in the final rounds of policy voting. Or, that Xi purposely had Jintao evicted when reporters arrived in order to “deliberately and publicly humiliate his predecessor”.
“Humiliating Hu in this fashion would also send a clear signal to the retired elders, the former high-level leaders who long remained a force within the party, that Xi’s power was unbound,” said Palmer.
But many Chinese political analysts believe the western media narratives surrounding the incident are most likely incorrect.
The best unedited vision of Hu Jintao being led off the Great Hall stage Asia Markets has found is from the AFP News Agency.
It’s true Jintao looks reluctant to leave, but throughout the 80 second clip, the 79-year-old appears dazed, confused and unable to get to his feet without assistance.
Days earlier, vision from the Congress shows a frail-looking Jintao being assisted as he walked onto the stage of the Great Hall and needing to be prompted by Xi Jinping to take his seat.
It’s clear Hu Jintao was in poor health and due to the timing of the media arrival in the Great Hall, no reporters would have seen if there was any visible deterioration in the minutes before he was led out.
Moments after he was led out, members were required to raise their hands to vote.
“It’s probable the Party was concerned Jintao would not have the awareness to be able to take part in votes in his state and this would have been embarrassing for the Party given where he was seated and they would know it would have caused great headlines with the world wondering if he was abstaining in deliberate protest or just not with it mentally,” one China-based journalist told Asia Markets.
“A cock-up is the best explanation,” explained Sydney-based Chinese political commentator, Han Yang.
“The most likely scenario remains Hu’s lucidity, and organisers mistimed his departure with foreign media arrival.”
The offical explanation from state media, predictably centred around health concerns:
Xinhua reporter Liu Jiawen said she “learned that 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 state media agency’s only response to the global speculation has been the following statement:
“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.”
Chinese censorship claims
Western media claims that the name Hu Jintao has been censored in Chinese media appear exaggerated.
In the CCTV (China state broadcaster) evening news aired just hours after the incident, Hu Jintao can be seen multiple times during a lengthy report on the Congress. An edit showing the report has been shared on Twitter by Manya Koetse.
When it comes to social media, the fact no new results for a search of ‘Hu Jintao’ appear on major Chinese social media platforms has caused further conjecture.
However, there are also zero new search results for the names of all other main party figures, such is the widespread media control surrounding the Congress.
All news about the Congress shared online comes from offical state-sanctioned accounts – and be it a health issue, or something more sinister, it would appear such a distraction surrounding a former leader is something the CCP doesn’t want to amplify.
Hu Jintao health concerns in spotlight since 2015
Health concerns surrounding Hu Jintao date back many years.
Since the later stages of his term as leader, it’s been widely rumoured that he has Parkinson’s Disease.
This was even reported in a 2015 Nikkei Asia article, when onlookers noticed Jintao’s hands shaking during a commemorative military parade where he appeared alongside Xi Jinping.
The Hu Jintao Parkinson’s Disease rumours have persisted right up until recent years.
Hu Jintao’s health aside, Congress cements extraordinary power for Xi
Despite the hyperbole surrounding Jintao, the 20th National Congress saw fierce Xi Jinping loyalists installed in the CCP leadership, while any remnants of factional rivals have been removed from the highest ranks of the party.
Close ally of Xi, Li Qiang, was elevated to Premier, despite being responsible for the draconian Shanghai COVID lockdowns. He replaces Premier Li Keqiang – a supporter of liberal economic reforms.
Also moved out of the Standing Committee was Wang Yang, viewed as a potential candidate for Premier, along with Hu Chunhua, another touted as a future leader.
Both had ties with the Communist Youth League, a previously influential faction, which political observers believe Xi has effectively now destroyed.
Of note, one of the most most prominent CCP members to rise from the once-mighty Communist Youth League is Hu Jintao.