Friday, May 6, 2016

Ren Zhiqiang: Why Foreign Business is Eyeing the Case of China's "Cannon"

Many people are in trouble in China for expressing dissent online; the case of real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang is of special interest to foreign business.

The Economist on Twitter: "Since when has the people's
government been turned into the party's  government?"
- Ren Zhiqiang, Chinese property tycoon and microblogger.

I've been amazed to read the stories in the Chinese language press about Ren Zhiqiang. Whole lists of China Communist Party (CCP) jargon that I had long ago forgotten -- Party discipline, Party line, anti-Party, censure, probation --  are suddenly relevant again. (See "China Puts a Tycoon, Ren Zhiqiang, on Probation for Criticizing Policies")

Ren Zhiqiang - looking defiant
Ren Zhiqiang is a Chinese real estate tycoon who also happens to be an outspoken Internet celebrity -- publishing on Chinese micro-blogging platforms like Sina Weibo and earning the nickname "the Cannon" -- and a son of a prominent member of the first generation of People's Republic of China (PRC) leaders. Oh, and he's a member of the Party . . . .

In February, China's leader Xi Jinping made a fundamental pronouncement to Chinese press outlets: in effect, "remember, your middle name is 'Party.'" (Xi used play on words, relating the Chinese word for "media" (mei - intermediary, go-between) to the word for "surname group" (xing), as if to say, "Sure, in theory you're neutral but let's remember whose family you really come from."

"The Cannon" fired back in cyberspace, asking if this meant "the People" had been left forgotten in a corner, and saying, "Since when has the people's government been turned into the party's government?"

China: it's no longer "shut up and take what you're given" . . . .
The brought the Cyberspace Administration of China down on Ren's head; and it has just been announced that Ren has been put on probation for one year by the Party. He's been told to behave himself, and the Party promises to keep an eye on him.

Foreign business is starting to keep an eye on him, too, and on related goings on in China. People who invest in China are finally starting to realize that it matters to them whether there is freedom of speech and freedom of press in China.

As I have been saying for a long time, when you've got a lot of money sunk into investments in a place, you really don't want to be the last one to find out when there's a problem.

What happens when more and more people in business start to stand up for the free flow of information?

Don't get me wrong -- I think China is an important state and worthy of our thoughtful attention. We need to be able to maintain seemingly contradictory views in our minds at the same time. For instance: we need to stand up for rights of people in China vis-a-vis the state; but we also need to recognize China's rights as a state within a world system in which states like the the US behave as if certain countries are more entitled than others.

Free speech and free flow of information is the great equalizer.

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