China’s Hu Jintao argued about official papers before being escorted out of congress

New footage captures high-level manoeuvring at key Communist Party meeting

A senior aide talks to Hu Jintao, China's former president (centre right), before escorting him from the Communist party congress. Photograph: Bloomberg

China’s former leader Hu Jintao was arguing about official papers moments before he was escorted off the stage at a key Communist Party meeting in Beijing, new footage shows.

Mr Hu’s apparently reluctant departure from the stage at the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was a rare moment of unscripted drama at what was otherwise a carefully choreographed week of political theatre.

The new footage, shot by Channel News Asia but only released two days after the incident, captures about a minute of discreet, high-level manoeuvring before an official arrives to escort Mr Hu away. The former leader (79) stepped down as head of the party 10 years ago.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that his unexpected exit was due to ill health but gave no further details.

Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao, while seated next to President Xi Jinping, was unexpectedly escorted out of a major Communist Party congress. (Reuters)

That semi-official line did little to quell speculation that what looked like a forced removal — Mr Hu seemed confused and unwilling to leave his seat — was some kind of political power play by his successor Xi Jinping.

The incident was not broadcast in China, and Mr Hu’s name was effectively scrubbed from the internal internet, inside the country’s great firewall.

The name of Hu’s son, Hu Haifeng, was also blocked by Chinese censors, sparking questions about whether there had been some kind of high-level dispute over his position within the CCP.

The images begin with Mr Hu’s neighbour on the podium at the Great Hall of the People, Li Zhanshu, taking a document from Mr Hu’s hand and placing it back under a red cover like the ones in front of all other top leaders, as he talks to Mr Hu.

Initially he leaves papers in front of the former leader, who seems confused. Then, apparently concerned that Mr Hu will try to get the document out again, Mr Li pulls the pile of papers towards himself, and keeps his hand on them.

Mr Xi glances towards the side of the stage, apparently summoning help, as a senior aide walks over and talks to him briefly, before heading away.

Mr Li continues to talk to Hu, while Mr Xi stares passively ahead. The young aide who will soon pull Mr Hu from his seat and escort him offstage arrives, talks briefly to Mr Hu and Mr Li and then goes to talk to Mr Xi for slightly longer.

At this point the footage has caught up with images previously broadcast by other outlets. The aide takes Mr Hu under his arms to help him from his seat.

As Mr Hu left, he tried to pick up the notes of Xi Jinping, his successor and China’s current leader, which lay between them on the table. Mr Xi reached out with his hand to hold the papers down.

The other living former leader of China, Jiang Zemin, is now 96 and had not appeared at the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr Xi has used the week-long gathering to cement his position in the CCP, bolster his personality cult and eliminate rivals. — Guardian