Chinese real estate billionaire Ren Zhiqiang is facing a “disciplinary review” for “serious disciplinary violations” after writing a letter calling dictator Xi Jinping a “clown,” the Communist Party confirmed on Wednesday. Ren has been missing since March.
Ren, a member of the Communist Party for over four decades and close friend of Vice President Wang Qishan, openly challenged Xi, without naming him, in a letter circulating on social media last month, using the fable of the emperor with no clothes and lamenting the country’s poor leadership at the moment.
The Global Times, a state propaganda newspaper, published a statement in part by the Beijing Xicheng district discipline inspection and supervision committee confirming the “investigation” into his criticism of Xi’s regime online. The fact that the statement came from a Communist Party supervisory committee, and not a prosecutor’s office, may appear to suggest that Ren will not face time in prison, though “disciplinary” actions against Party members have repeatedly resulted in the detention of Xi critics.
“Ren is under investigation for suspected serious violations of discipline and law by the Beijing Xicheng district discipline inspection and supervision committee, according to a statement on the committee’s website,” the Global Times confirmed. The newspaper noted that Ren has a history of criticizing Xi Jinping’s leadership, even while rising to senior Communist Party positions in prior administrations:
The Committee of the Communist Party of China in Xicheng district in 2016 deemed that Ren had violated the Party’s political discipline and placed his Party membership on probation for one year.
Ren repeatedly made “wrong statements” on internet platforms such as Sina Weibo, blogs and other public occasions “in violation of the four cardinal principles and violating the Party’s principles and policies,” the Xicheng district’s website said in 2016.
Ren ended his tenure as a Communist Party secretary in 2011, two years before Xi took over.
The real estate tycoon disappeared in mid-March following the publication of an open letter he titled “The Lives of the People Are Ruined By the Virus and a Seriously Sick System”
“The emperor is holding up a piece of cloth, trying to cover up the fact that he is wearing no clothes at all, although his ambition to be a strong leader is naked enough,” the letter read in part, stating that Ren saw “not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor.”
Ren also specifically condemned the Communist Party for silencing doctors who warned of a contagious disease spreading in Wuhan, where the Chinese coronavirus originated, in December, and staging mass gatherings of elderly people, where the virus likely spread. The most egregious of these events was a Lunar New Year banquet that attempted to break world records and fed 130,000 people, mostly “empty nesters” whose children were abroad during the holiday.
“The covert propaganda around the decisions made during the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic will only deceive those who are willing to be deceived,” Ren concluded.
Ren has become the highest-profile and most powerful person Xi has abducted since the disappearance of Meng Hongwei, the former president of Interpol. While serving as president of the global law enforcement agency, Meng returned to his native China and disappeared without a trace in October 2018. In January, the Chinese Communist Party announced it had sentenced Meng to 13 years in prison on dubious corruption charges. During Meng’s tenure, Interpol rejected Xi’s demands for “red notices” – requests for the arrest of – the head of the World Uyghur Congress, a human rights organization that has documented atrocities committed against China’s ethnic Uyghur minority by Xi’s regime.
Meng “resigned” from the leadership of Interpol in a letter handed to the organization by the Communist Party shortly after his disappearance.
Ren’s letter is not the only one circulating among Communist Party elite and demanding that Xi Jinping resign from power. An anonymous letter appeared on Chinese social media in late March, reportedly shared by senior Party members, demanding that members of the Politburo hold an emergency meeting to depose Xi. The letter cited both the coronavirus disaster and Xi’s sprawling Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which it condemned as a plot to enrich “backward nations” at the Chinese people’s expense.
Another anonymous letter popular on Chinese social media demanded free and fair elections to choose the nation’s head of state, in addition to condemning the detention of several Wuhan doctors for sharing safety tips on contagious diseases before the Party had made public the existence of a new pathogen.
The letters join a mounting set of evidence that the Chinese people are increasingly doubtful of Xi’s leadership. In Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, a riot broke out two weeks ago when Beijing ordered neighboring Jiangxi province to allow Hubei residents to pass. Jiangxi police, not trusting Beijing’s claim that the outbreak in Hubei was over, blocked civilians from passing, resulting in a violent riot in which Hubei police joined civilians in beating police and flipping over police cars.
Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, had already experienced anti-government protests attracting thousands of people last summer, when the Communist Party began building a toxic waste incinerator in a location it had promised to build an ecological park.