Xi cements power as China's Communist Party wraps weeklong meeting
In unusual moment, ex-president Hu Jintao escorted out of party congress
China's Communist Party wrapped up its twice-a-decade congress on Saturday, approving amendments to its charter aimed at cementing Xi Jinping's core status and revealing a new Central Committee missing two key officials lacking close ties to Xi.
The party's new Central Committee does not include Premier Li Keqiang or Wang Yang, a sign that analysts have said suggests the next Politburo Standing Committee, to be unveiled around noon (0400 GMT) on Sunday, is likely to be stacked with people close to Xi.
Li, who will step down in March as premier, and Wang, who heads the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, are both 67 and therefore eligible under China's age norms to have served another five years on the powerful seven-member Standing Committee.
Neither is seen to have long-standing ties with Xi, who is likely to bring four new faces onto the Standing Committee, according to analysts and media reports. Current members Wang Huning, 67, and Zhao Leji, 65, who are both perceived to be close to Xi, were both re-elected to the 205-member Central Committee and are expected to be reappointed to the PSC.
Two other PSC members are past retirement age.
Ex-president escorted out of congress
In an unusual moment, former president Hu Jintao was unexpectedly escorted out of the closing ceremony of the congress.
Hu, Xi's immediate predecessor, was seated to the left of Xi. The 79-year-old was led off the stage of the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing by two stewards, a Reuters witness at the congress said.
Video footage published by AFP showed a steward repeatedly trying to lift Hu from his seat, drawing concerned looks from officials seated nearby. Hu then put his hand on a sheet of paper placed on Xi's folder but Xi quickly put his hand on the sheet.
China's top legislator Li Zhanshu, seated to Hu's right, gave the former president's folder to a steward, wiping his own head with a cloth after Hu finally stood up.
Looking distressed, Hu appeared to resist leaving as the stewards escorted him out, turning back to his seat at one point. On his way out, he exchanged words with Xi and patted Premier Li Keqiang, seated to the right of Xi, on the shoulder.
Video of the incident, highly unusual given the meticulous stage management of most such events, was widely shared on Twitter but could not be found on China's heavily censored social media platforms.
On China's Twitter-like Weibo, a few social media users alluded to the incident by commenting on old posts featuring Hu, a common tactic used to evade cyberspace censors.
By Saturday evening, however, the comments section of almost all Weibo posts containing Hu's name were no longer visible, according to a Reuters review.
State media coverage of the ceremony did not include the scene, which occurred as journalists were entering the hall.
Hu had appeared slightly unsteady last Sunday when he was assisted onto the same stage for the opening ceremony of the congress.
Trying to consolidate position
Li and Wang — who had been considered by some party-watchers as a candidate to succeed Li as premier — both have ties with the Communist Youth League, a once-influential group that experts say has lost power under Xi.
"Xi Jinping is trying to consolidate the premier position, not just that of the general secretary," said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of China studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Also on Saturday, the party approved amendments to its constitution aimed at cementing the core status of Xi and the guiding role of his political thought within the party as it wrapped up its twice-a-decade congress.
The new Central Committee on Sunday will choose the elite Politburo Standing Committee, with Xi, 69, widely expected to secure a third leadership term.
A third five-year leadership term would solidify Xi's place as China's most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong, founding leader of the People's Republic.
Among the amendments to the party constitution, the "Two Establishes" define Xi as the "core" leader of the party and cement his ideas as the guiding principles of China's future development. The "Two Safeguards" assure Xi's "core" status within the party and the party's centralized authority over China.
New leadership to be unveiled
Voting was conducted by show of hands in the vast Great Hall of the People, where much of the week's party congress proceedings have taken place behind closed doors.
The congress concluded with a military band playing The Internationale.
At its first plenum on Sunday, the party's new central committee will choose the next Politburo, which is typically 25 people, and its new Standing Committee.
The new leadership will be unveiled when Xi, widely expected to be renewed in China's top post as party general secretary, walks into a room of journalists at the Great Hall, followed by the other members of the Standing Committee in descending order of rank.