Chinese leader denies seeking to silence critics

BEIJING • China's ruling Communist Party is not trying to curtail internal debate or criticism with rules banning "baseless comments", President Xi Jinping has said.

It is simply trying to ensure that no one is "singing out of tune", he said.

Mr Xi has come down hard on corruption since coming to power more than three years ago. Along with the anti-corruption drive, he has also been reining in overt dissent by party members on key issues, with new party rules unveiled last year banning "baseless comments" on major policies.

In a January speech, the full transcript of which was carried by the party's official People's Daily yesterday, Mr Xi said some party members had been feigning compliance with policy and even openly expressing opposition.

"The reason we demand party members and cadres not to make baseless comments is not so you can't raise opinions and suggestions or even critical opinions," he said.

"It's so that on important political principles, on issues of right and wrong, (you) cannot sing out of tune with the party centre and engage in political liberalism."

The party periodically warns against "liberalism", which generally refers to those wishing to challenge the extent of party control in China.

On Monday, it was reported that an outspoken property tycoon had been punished for his online comments criticising Mr Xi's propaganda policies.

Mr Ren Zhiqiang, nicknamed "The Cannon" for his provocative opinions and blunt defence of economic inequality, was given a one-year probation by the party.

He was disciplined for making public comments that were "wrong" and "violated the party's line and policies", said Beijing's Xicheng district party committee on its website. "His behaviour seriously violated the party's political discipline," it said.

The probation means the businessman could be expelled from the party, which has more than 85 million members, if he steps out of line again.

According to Chinese media, Mr Ren had criticised the state media and questioned whether taxpayer money should be used to promote the government.

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

He posted the comments after Mr Xi toured the country's top three state news organisations - Xinhua news agency, the People's Daily and China Central Television - and asked them to toe the party line.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese leader denies seeking to silence critics'. Print Edition | Subscribe