While Xi Jinping has remaine successful in securing a third term for himself as the Communist Party of China’s General Secretary, the 20th National Congress will be remembered for its embarrassing incidents which took place in the beginning and end of the once in five-year important meet of the party at the Great Hall in Beijing.
While two days before the weeklong Congress, anti-Xi banners hung from an overbridge in Beijing greeted CPC delegates coming to attend the National Congress, the last day of the meet saw ex-President Hu Jintao being forcibly escorted out of the Great Hall in full view of international media.
Every aspect of the drama on forced ouster of the former Chinese President from the Great Hall was censored by the Chinese authorities from social media and news websites. For the next 12 hours on October 22, there was no official comment on the surprising removal of Hu Jintao from the dais in the Great Hall, but on October 23, China’s state-backed media outlet Xinhua came out with explanation, stating that the former President was “not feeling well” and that was the reason for his removal.
Those who know China and the CPC well, will not buy such arguments as Hu Jintao who was hauled out of the closing session of the National Congress, had earlier attended the closed-door session of the Congress a few hours ago the same day. The former Chinese President was looking frail, but never complained about his health condition.
In this background, in a highly choreographed proceeding when everything from serving tea to delivering details of programme to delegates is rehearsed in advance, ushering out the reluctant 79-year-old ex-President from the highly important session, set off many tongues wagging. Especially when delegates were called on to endorse the party’s work report during the close session open to journalists
In fact, in the faction-ridden CPC, Hu Jintao belonged to the ‘Tuanpai’ or the Youth League Group which has opposed President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid approach and economic policy. The group had last year opposed crackdown on tech giants. As per media reports ‘Princeling’ faction of which Xi Jinping belongs to, often faced criticism from the ‘Tuanpai’ faction for rising anti-China sentiments in the world. Li Keqiang who has been dropped from the CPC’s Politburo Standing Committee, the group of seven most powerful leaders who govern China, belonged to the ‘Tuanpai’ faction.
However, since nothing moves in the party without Xi Jinping’s permission, the removal of Hu Jintao at the closing session of the National Congress, must have been done after due hint from the party’s boss. That means Xi Jinping who was fearful of Hu Jintao’s stand on the political and economic issues, did not want any kind of dissenting note from his predecessor during the closing session.
To pre-empt it, the ex-President was whisked away from the highly important session of the National Congress in the full glare of international media. The incident, some experts say, was deliberately enacted to humiliate the elderly party leader who during his 2003 to 2013 presidency had played an instrumental role in China’s high-octane economic growth.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics was successfully organised during his presidency. Openness of China to the world, during his regime, helped foreign companies in setting up their manufacturing base in the East Asian country; tourists were flooding; local media outlets were not as much chained as they are today; China’s international reputation was good. Hu Jintao was also credited to run a much more collective leadership and used to balance various factions by pushing their people in the Politburo Standing Committee.
In that way Hu Jintao represented a different model from that of his successor Xi Jinping. Even though the CPC in a recent release had warned senior party figures to keep quiet about top-level policy discussions, avoid making politically negative remarks, refrain from influence peddling and resolutely oppose and resist all kinds of wrongful thinking.
Hu Jintao and other senior party leaders refused to toe Xi Jinping’s line on economic, social and political issues. They were opposed to breaking the CPC’s age-old practice of two-term norm for the general secretaryship. They were coming in the way of Xi Jinping’s desire to become a powerful leader.
Now given that all those including Li Keqiang have been shunted out of the top positions of the party and the Politburo Standing Committee has been stacked with Xi Jinping’s loyalists, the party has formally closed channels of reform and openness that marked it during Hu Jintao’s presidency.
However, whatever one may say about the 20th National Congress of the CPC, the mass meeting of the party will be remembered for controversies. It is expected that Xi Jinping will mount a crackdown against his rivals in the name of an anti-corruption drive to suppress dissent in the coming days, but this will make China a more authoritarian and regimented country. It means China will emerge more challenging—economically, politically and strategically– to the world during Xi Jinping’s regime.