China's ruling party disciplines tycoon who questioned its power

BEIJING - China's ruling Communist Party has disciplined an outspoken property tycoon who criticised its tightening grip on the media, it was announced Monday.

Ren Zhiqiang, nicknamed "the Cannon" for his provocative opinions and blunt defence of economic inequality, made "erroneous statements contrary to the party line, principles, policies and other aspects and represents a serious violation of the party's political discipline," said a statement on the website of Beijing's Xicheng district.

"It is decided to give Comrade Ren one year probation," the statement added.

The businessman is also a member of the ruling party and registered in Xicheng. Probation is one step short of expulsion from the party.

Ren's blunt views attracted a huge following - 37 million on Sina Weibo alone - until authorities closed his social media accounts after he came under fire in February.

Twin articles in the state-affiliated news portal Qianlong assailed Ren for questioning on social media whether citizens' money ought to be spent on pushing party propaganda.

"When did the people's government change into the party's government?" the commentary quoted Ren's since-deleted post as saying. "Is their money the party's?... Don't use taxpayers' money for things that don't provide them with services." Ren made the comments after Xi visited the official news agency Xinhua, state broadcaster CCTV and the ruling party's mouthpiece the People's Daily. He ordered them to follow the Communist Party line, focus on "positive reporting", and "speak the party's will and protect the party's authority and unity", according to Xinhua.

The party brooks no opposition to its rule and newspapers, websites, and broadcasters are strictly controlled by the government. An army of censors patrols social media to delete comments deemed taboo and many Western news websites are blocked.

Ren had previously drawn fire for calling CCTV "the dumbest pig on earth" and for his blunt statements defending the high prices of real estate.

One of the Qianlong articles - headlined "Who gave Ren the confidence to oppose the party?" - accused the businessman of making capitalist arguments and pursuing Western constitutionalism. It argued that the Soviet Union fell because the media failed to uphold loyalty to the ruling party.

The other upbraided him for failing to defend the interests of the Communist Party, ominously warning: "Any behaviour that stirs up chaos will inevitably encounter the people's scorn, any attempt to provoke a disturbance and stir up hate will encounter the people's opposition, and netizens' teaching him a lesson in communism is the best proof."

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