China closes social media accounts of property developer

Internet watchdog says comments critical of President Xi Jinping were ‘illegal’

China's internet watchdog has shut down the social media accounts of a high-profile property developer, Ren Zhiqiang, who has posted articles critical of President Xi Jinping and called for the state media to serve the people, not the Communist Party.

Mr Ren, who is retired, has 37 million followers on his social media account. His comments there, which have generally been about business matters, have become increasingly political.

Shutting down his microblogging accounts, the Cyberspace Administration of China accused Mr Ren of publishing "illegal messages that had a vicious impact", the latest sign of a tightening of control of online activity in China.

Cyberspace Administration of China spokesperson Jiang Jun said the CAC has closed Ren's Sina and Tencent Weibo accounts because "the Internet is not a lawless land and nobody can spread illegal information online".


Earlier this month, President Xi Jinping visited the three main state propaganda organs and urged them to stick closely to party lines in their reporting.

The Great Firewall of China keeps a tight rein on the internet in China.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other Western sites are all banned, and local social media, such as the vastly popular WeChat, is closely monitored to make sure it does not post dissenting views.

At times the web in China feels like a giant Intranet that only really works for shopping, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) systems are among the latest online targets.

The Global Times newspaper, which is part of the People’s Daily group, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, reported that even though Mr Ren was a member of the party, he had argued that “once media start to follow the Party line ... the people will be left to a deserted corner”.

“Ren has spoken out this way for a while, benefiting from the fame it brings but taking no responsibilities.

“He gained over 33 million followers on Weibo, attracted widespread attention and triggered numerous heated debates in the public discourse,” it said.

“As a Party member, Ren should have insisted on the constitutional principle of the Communist Party of China’s leadership.

“Ren’s case should be interpreted in the right way: The Internet is open, but there is no difference between managing virtual society and the real one,” it said.

Separately, the Communist Party has launched a year-long campaign of self-discipline and socialist values to instill the values it wants in its 88 million members, the Xinhua news agency reported.

"The education campaign will focus on the study of the Party constitution and rules, as well as remarks made by General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping, " Xinhua reported.

The campaign is the latest sign of back-to-basics ideology under President Xi that has prompted some comparisons with the Cultural Revolution.

On March 10th, new rules will come in reinforcing existing legislation banning foreign media companies and foreign joint ventures from distributing content online without prior approval by the Chinese government.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing