China moves to punish party member for criticising President Xi’s inept handling of Covid-19 outbreak

Ren Zhiqiang, 69, a former head of state-run real estate conglomerate Huayuan Group and a prominent party member. (Photo courtesy: SCMP)

(, Apr09’20) – A prominent member of the Communist Party who had indirectly referred to China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping as a “clown” for his inept handling of the coronavirus outbreak is being investigated on alleged suspicion of a “severe violation of discipline and law,” a joint government-party watchdog was cited as saying Apr 8.

Ren Zhiqiang, 69, a former head of state-run real estate conglomerate Huayuan Group and a prominent party member, has made his criticism in an online “crisis of governance” posting, targeting Xi’s Feb 23 speech. He blamed restrictions on freedom of speech and the press for slowing down the response to combat the novel coronavirus, thereby worsening the outbreak.

Without mentioning Xi by name, Ren wrote that after analyzing the President’s speech he “saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor,” noted China Digital Times, a US-based website.

Ren had remained untraceable to his friends since Mar 12.

Now a one-sentence notice issued on Apr 7 by the party-government joint disciplinary watchdog body in Beijing’s western district has said Ren was undergoing a “review and monitoring investigation”, giving no details whatsoever.

Ren had an early military career and his parents were both former high-ranking officials in the Communist Party. That led some to call him a princeling, an oft-used reference to the offspring of the founders of the People’s Republic – including Xi.

That status might have provided him with some immunity from prosecution, although he appears to have crossed a line by criticising Xi’s personal leadership, whether by name or implication, noted an report Apr 8.

The report noted that Ren had gained the nickname “Cannon Ren” for previous critiques posted on social media and had been put on probation from the party for a year in 2016 as part of a punishment for publicly criticising government policy.

The Chinese government at that time ordered platforms such as the Twitter-like Weibo to shut down Ren’s social media accounts, which had more than 30 million online followers, saying he had been “spreading illegal information”.

Beijing has framed the battle against coronavirus as a “People’s War” led by Xi who has been missing from the scene during the early part of the pandemic’s outbreak.


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