Imagine if Donald Trump’s Twitter account was suspended after hot-headed White House aides took umbrage at his latest criticisms lobbed at President Obama’s government.
That’s the latest scenario playing out in China, where President Xi Jinping’s administration is targeting criticism from any corner of the country; first human rights advocates, now retired voices from the business world.
Possibly Trump’s closest Chinese doppelgänger, a property magnate named Ren Zhiqiang so well known for his brash outspokenness that his nickname is “Cannon Ren,” had his Sina Weibo (wb) and Tencent (tcehy) accounts blocked last week after he dared to pan the state media for serving the Communist Party instead of the Chinese people. “When did the People’s Government turn into the Party’s Government?” he wrote after Xi toured Party-controlled state media last week to rapturous approval. Ren said the newspapers were funded with tax dollars so they should represent the people, not the Party.
That went too far for Xi’s government. Questioning the Party’s priorities! Suggesting that the Party is not the people!
Not even Ren’s status as a Party member—his property company Huayuan Real Estate Group, which he retired from, was owned by Beijing’s municipal government–was enough to protect him from the censor’s wrath.
Ren’s comments provoked a backlash online from angry leftist Party columnists in a attack organized better than the Republican establishment’s strategy to beat Trump. One writer used the Mao-era epithet “running dogs of capitalism” to describe Ren.
Sina and Tencent blocked his accounts last week at the behest of the government, China’s internet regulator confirmed yesterday.
Ren had 38 million followers on Weibo, China’s Twitter. Before he rained on Xi’s media tour parade, Ren was often critical of the Party. In 2014 Ren posted a photo of the nationalistic Global Times editor Hu Xijin and asked “Are you brainwashed by Marxism?” Ren was awarded an award the same year as “Excellent Party Member of the Year.”
Ren seemed immune from censure…until now.
It marks a turning point in Xi’s tenure. Everyone in business now knows no amount of criticism directed towards Xi’s administration, no matter who it came from, is safe.