China’s ruling Communist Party has expelled a prominent and prominent real estate tycoon who denounced the country’s authoritarian leader Xi Jinping, paved the way for his prosecution, and escalated his efforts to suppress disagreement among the elite.
The party announced the expulsion of the tycoon Ren Zhiqiang. late Thursdayand said it confiscated its assets for “serious violations of discipline and law,” which included golf club membership. Officials also targeted Mr. Ren’s family, accusing him of “working with his children to accumulate wealth without hesitation.”
The steps against Mr. Ren, 69, appeared to be designed to reassure the country’s entrepreneurs and other business leaders and to demonstrate the party’s determination to use him as an example to show that no one was above their demands for steadfast political loyalty was standing.
He was accused of “smearing the party and the image of the country, distorting the party and the history of the military, being unfaithful and dishonest to the party” and opposing the party’s investigation into him – a phrase that suggests that he refused to admit wrongdoing.
Mr. Ren, retired Veteran party member and was former chairman of Huayuan Properties, a real estate development company arrested in March after criticizing Mr. Xi’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. In China’s opaque and often irreconcilable legal system, he is likely to be prosecuted.
Mr. Ren’s friends said that the party’s hard treatment of Mr. Ren was exaggerated.
“This is an obvious political persecution,” said Wang Ying, a retired entrepreneur and friend of Mr. Ren, in a post on WeChat, a popular messaging app. “This is a rare good man, a good citizen who is responsible and willing to take responsibility, an entrepreneur who has played his role and obeyed the law.”
“I am proud to have a friend like you,” Ms. Wang wrote.
Under Mr. Xi, who came to power in 2012, the Chinese authorities have investigated or arrested numerous lawyers, journalists and scholars who have challenged the party line, often on false charges. Action has increased in recent months as the party has been heavily criticized for dealing with the corona virus, introducing new national security laws in Hong Kong, and continuing action against Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
“Xi has no tolerance for political disagreements, let alone room to be openly ridiculed,” said Jude Blanchette, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research institute in Washington, DC. “From Hong Kong to Xinjiang It is clear that Xi and the party will close their fists if they feel a security or political challenge to their core rule. The international outcry is damned.”
With Chinese business people finding dedicated followers in recent years, the party has been working more aggressively on it Take them under his control. China relies on entrepreneurs for innovations that drive its economy, but officials also fear that its fame might pose a threat to the dominance of the party.
Mr. Xi said at a meeting of entrepreneurs in Beijing on Tuesday that one of their main goals should be to “strengthen their patriotism”.
“Patriotism is the glorious tradition of our country’s outstanding entrepreneurs in modern times,” he said, according to a Transcript published by Xinhua, the official news agency.
Mr. Ren, a brave commentator who was nicknamed “The Cannon”. has disappeared in March after writing an essay criticizing the party’s response to the coronavirus outbreak that occurred in central China’s Wuhan city in late December.
In the essay, Mr. Ren said the strict limits on the party’s freedom of speech, including the closure of whistleblowers, had exacerbated the crisis. At one point he referred to Mr. Xi, who tried to create a picture as a commanding, transformative leader, as a power-hungry “clown”.
“I don’t see an emperor showing his” new clothes “there, but a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing to be emperor,” wrote Ren. He said he hoped the party would “wake up from ignorance” and oust the leaders who stand in its way.
The Party Disciplinary Committee in Beijing referred to Mr. Ren’s writings in Thursday, in which he outlined his alleged wrongdoing.
Party officials also accused Mr. Ren of using public funds to cover private expenses to create the conditions for corruption and embezzlement. These expenses included golf club membership cards, the announcement said. The party has used golf for a long time to conjure up images of luxury and excess; Mao once called it a “sport for millionaires”.
The announcement said the party confiscated Mr. Ren’s “illegal profits” and forwarded his case to the prosecutor. It accused him of “using public power as an instrument for personal gain”.
It is not the first time that Mr. Ren has been punished for criticizing Mr. Xi. The party in 2016 placed him for a one-year trial period for commenting online on Xi’s propaganda policy and closing his social media accounts, where he had attracted tens of millions of followers.
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Mr. Ren, the former leader of a state-owned company and a friend of influential Chinese politicians, is a well-known member of the establishment who joined the Communist Party at the age of 23. His expulsion underlines fears within the party that criticism from his own members could undermine his influence on power, activists say.
“Ren Zhiqiang is not a radical dissident, but a decade-long loyal Communist Party member committed to political reform,” said Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Communist Party does not tolerate criticism of the party, even if it is intended to improve the party’s governance.”
The party has arrested several other prominent figures in the past few months who have criticized Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Xu Zhangrun, a law professor who repeatedly denounced Mr. Xi’s authoritarian policies arrested briefly this month after writing essays blaming officials for delays and obfuscation in the early days of the epidemic. The police accused Mr. Xu of teaming up with prostitutes. An accusation that his friends described as untrue and an insult to him. He has since been released from teaching at Tsinghua University in Beijing, friends say.
Xu Zhiyong, a legal activist, was arrested in February, activists say after accusing Mr. Xi of trying to hide the coronavirus and asking him to resign. He was officially arrested last month.
Mr. Xi, one of China’s most powerful leaders in decades, would like to continue strengthen his rule In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, he is most likely concerned about threats to his leadership in elite political and business circles, analysts say.
Erin Baggott Carter, an assistant professor at the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California, said Mr. Ren’s expulsion was “a warning to other C.C.P. elites to keep the line,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
She said that Mr. Xi’s popularity among the elite and the general public could suffer from a number of challenges, including unemployment and tensions with the United States.
“He cannot tolerate dissent, especially from powerful elites with public support,” she said, referring to Mr. Xi. “These elites could challenge his leadership the most.”