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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People on Oct. 22, 2022 in Beijing.Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has further cemented his absolute control over the ruling Communist Party, as a twice-a-decade national congress drew to a close with votes on constitutional amendments and a new central committee.

That event on Saturday was overshadowed somewhat by the mysterious exit of former president Hu Jintao, who had been seated next to Mr. Xi, his successor. A frail, confused-looking Mr. Hu was led from the Great Hall of the People by masked attendants soon after reporters had been allowed in to observe proceedings.

Everything from then onward went as planned, with party members endorsing various motions, including amendments to the party constitution securing Mr. Xi’s core status and the guiding role of his political theory. After proposals were read out, Mr. Xi held up his hand to vote in the affirmative and asked if there were any objections, and vote counters could be heard shouting “none” from across the vast meeting room.

The man who will shape the future: China’s Xi Jinping prepares for a second decade in power

The party also approved a new, 204-member Central Committee, rubber stamping decisions that will have been made by Mr. Xi and other senior leaders weeks earlier. The new committee, from which the Politburo and supreme Politburo Standing Committee will be drawn, is packed with cadres seen as close to Mr. Xi and does not include departing Premier Li Keqiang or one of the men who was expected to replace him, Wang Yang.

Mr. Li had previously indicated he would step down as Premier, but because he was under the standard retirement age, it had been speculated he might stay on in another senior role. His exit from front-line politics Mr. Xi spent much of the past 10 years encroaching on and subsuming the premier’s traditional oversight of the economy, marginalizing Mr. Li – once seen as a potential candidate himself for the top job.

Mr. Wang, a former leader of Guangdong province sometimes seen as a reformist or “liberal” voice within the party, is not believed to be close to Mr. Xi. As he is also under the retirement age, Mr. Wang had been suggested as something of a compromise candidate for premier, a sop to factions unhappy with Mr. Xi’s economic policies.

That job may instead go to long-time Xi loyalist Li Qiang, the current boss of Shanghai. Mr. Li’s elevation after the disastrous response he oversaw to a COVID-19 outbreak in the eastern metropolis earlier this year would be a major sign of Mr. Xi’s power within the party, as other officials have been sacked for far less costly pandemic bungles.

The standing committee is due to be revealed Sunday, with all eyes on whether it includes anyone who can be seen as a potential successor to Mr. Xi as he begins his unprecedented third term as party leader. Analysts will also be looking to whether he shrinks or grows the current seven-member body, and if he packs it with loyalists or elevates perceived factional rivals, which could give some indication as to behind-the-scenes negotiations with other senior party figures.

Such tea-leaf reading was already a feature of Chinese elite politics, where much of what happens is a mystery, but the party has become even more of a black box under Mr. Xi.

This lack of insight was typified by the wild speculation that surrounded the one piece of drama from Saturday’s event: Mr. Hu’s exit from the Great Hall.

Photos and videos captured by reporters across the room showed Mr. Hu, seated between Mr. Xi and Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People’s Congress of China, being helped up by a masked attendant after a brief discussion. In the footage, the 79-year-old initially appears to object to leaving, and speaks briefly with Mr. Xi and Li Keqiang, before patting the latter, a former protégé, on the shoulder.

Video also showed Li Zhanshu rubbing Mr. Hu’s back before the incident, and Mr. Li starts to rise as the elder man is led out, before being gently pulled back into his seat by Wang Huning, another standing committee member.

The reason for Mr. Hu’s exit has not been revealed or even discussed in Chinese media, and it may never be. When Mr. Xi himself briefly disappeared from public view in 2012, just before his promotion to leader, there was wild speculation about coup attempts and intra-party fights, but the true cause has never been explained.

Mr. Xi’s continued elevation does seem clear, however. Party members on Saturday approved new amendments to the organization’s constitution further emphasizing his “core” role and that of his political philosophy: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

The amended constitution will also include a commitment “resolutely opposing and deterring separatists seeking ‘Taiwan independence.’”

In a speech to party members, Mr. Xi encouraged them to “dare to struggle, dare to win, bury your heads in hard work and be determined to keep forging ahead.”

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