Chinese coronavirus critic Ren Zhiqiang under investigation, Communist Party disciplinary committee says

William Zheng

Ren Zhiqiang, the former Chinese property tycoon and outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, is under investigation for alleged “serious violations of law and discipline”, the Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog announced.

In a short statement released on Tuesday, the Commission for Discipline Inspection in Beijing said that Ren – a member of China’s ruling Communist Party and a former top executive of state-controlled property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group – was under investigation. 

Friends say that they have lost contact with Ren, 69, since March 12 after an article he wrote criticising the way in which Chinese government responded to the coronavirus outbreak was widely shared online.

In the essay, which does not mention the top leadership by name, Ren was critical not only of the initial cover-up of the virus outbreak, but also of the way in which Beijing is now promoting its success in handling it. Additionally, he was critical of the growth of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s personal power.

Ren called the Covid-19 outbreak, which started in China and has caused more than 1.3 million infections and more than 76,000 deaths globally, a “crisis of governance” within the CCP. He also said that the lack of free press and speech had prevented the outbreak from being tackled sooner, causing the situation to worsen.

The announcement by the Beijing’s party disciplinary watchdog did not make direct reference to the article.

Ren is a longstanding critic of the Communist Party and a popular opinion leader on Weibo, China’s micro-blogging platform that is similar to Twitter. Besides being critical about the government’s efforts to control the property market, he has also regularly called for more freedom of expression and less government control of the media.

Chinese tycoon goes missing after criticising Beijing’s coronavirus response

This is not the first time Ren has faced disciplinary action from the party. In 2016, he was placed under a year’s probation for his social media posts that “repeatedly contrasted” with the party’s policies after he openly challenged Xi’s view that the country’s state media should be aligned to the party’s perspective.

After Xi visited the headquarters of state broadcaster CCTV in 2016, Ren posted on Weibo: “When does the people’s government turn into the party’s government? … Don’t waste taxpayers’ money on things that do not provide them with services.”

The message was promptly deleted, and Ren’s Weibo account, which had 37 million followers, was blocked.

Ren’s father was among the first generation of revolutionaries that founded the People’s Republic of China, which left his son with good links to the country’s political elite.

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