China’s former president Hu Jintao has been unexpectedly escorted out of the closing ceremony of the ruling Communist Party.

The 79-year-old, who was sitting on the left of President Xi Jinping, was led off the stage of the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing by two stewards.

Mr Hu, Mr Xi’s predecessor, appeared confused and slightly disorientated as the assistants escorted him out. He appeared to resist leaving, turning back to his seat at one point.

On his way out he exchanged words with Mr Xi and patted Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder.

Mr Hu had appeared slightly unsteady last Sunday when he was assisted onto the same stage for the opening ceremony of the congress.

Chinese state media has claimed that Mr Hu was “not feeling well” and was accompanied out of the session to “rest”, adding that he feels “much better”.

Xinhuanet reporter Liu Jiawen claimed that Mr Hu “insisted” on attending the closing session despite taking the time recently to “recuperate”.

Mr Li, the country’s number two official and a chief proponent of economic reforms, is among four of the seven members of the nation’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee who will not be reappointed in a leadership shuffle on Sunday.

The four were not on the list of the Communist Party’s new 205-member Central Committee that was approved at the closing session on Saturday. Only Central Committee members can serve on the Standing Committee.

The congress also approved an amendment of the party constitution that could further bolster Mr Xi’s stature as China‘s leader.

The text of the announcement has yet to be released but before its approval an announcer read out the reasoning behind it and repeatedly mentioned Mr Xi and his achievements in strengthening the military and the economy and reinforcing the party’s authority.

Mr Hu’s congress exit ‘highly unusual and very intriguing’

It’s hard to exaggerate just how highly choreographed, tightly controlled and meticulously planned these big political events in China are.

Therefore, what happened to Hu Jintao is highly unusual and very intriguing.

The timing is curious. It happened after the voting had concluded for the new ruling Central Committee (which happened without cameras rolling), and just after select journalists had been let into the hall.

If it was an example of political power play it would be utterly extraordinary. Despite the fact Mr Xi is known to have thought of Mr Hu as weak, and despite the fact they come from different wings of the party, former leaders are generally revered.

Is it possible the aging Hu was simply unwell and led out for health reasons?

In brief closing remarks, Mr Xi said the revision “sets out clear requirements for upholding and strengthening the party’s overall leadership”.

At the previous congress in 2017 the party boosted Mr Xi’s status by enshrining his ideas, known as Xi Jinping Thought, in its charter.

It is almost certain Mr Xi will be appointed to a precedent-breaking third term, meaning he could in theory become leader for life.