A CHINESE millionaire who called President Xi Jinping a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak has been missing for three weeks.
Ren Zhiqiang, a real estate tycoon, vanished on March 12 – 23 days ago – after he openly criticised the Communist Party’s response to the epidemic.
Ren Zhiqiang has not been seen since March 12 after he criticised the Chinese government over coronavirus
The property mogul was a previously a loyal member of the party, but over the past four years had become a vocal critic of the Chinese regime.
His friends have said he went missing last month after writing an essay which was released online criticising Beijing’s handling of coronavirus.
China has been condemned for its early actions during the outbreak which has since spiraled into a global pandemic.
The regime is believed to have attempted to cover up the disease – including arresting a prominent doctor who warned of the outbreak – and then also is feared to have downplayed the number of confirmed cases.
Mr Ren blamed the actions of a power hungry “clown” for failure to manage the outbreak, being widely understood to be referring to President Xi.
He also criticised the limits placed on free speech, and called on the party to “wake up from ignorance” to oust its leaders.
The tycoon’s work was shared around on internet message boards in China before he then vanished.
His son and his assistant are also reportedly missing without a trace.
It has now been more than three weeks since anyone has heard from the 69-year-old, raising fears he has been snatched by the authorities.
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves during a tree-planting ceremony on April 3
Mr Ren – who was known as Big Cannon for his criticism of the party – previously feared he may be snatched, reports the New York Times.
He had been barred by the government from giving speeches or posting on social media – once having 38 million followers on Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The millionaire criticised the party when the Chinese authorities demanded all news media serve the state in 2016.
He was then suspended from the Communist Party, had his passport taken away, and was barred from Weibo .
It is feared his open criticism of China’s handling of the coronavirus was one step too far for the Communist Party.
In his essay, he wrote: “Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts people’s lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system.”
People stand in silent tribute at a square during a three minute national memorial to coronavirus victims on April 4
Other activists and journalists who have criticised the Chinese government during the outbreak have also gone missing.
Human rights campaigner Xu Zhiyong is reportedly being held in detention for demanding President Xi step down.
Citizen journalist Chen Qiushi has also disappeared after forcibly being put in quarantine in February.
China has been criticised for attempting to control the narrative on the coronavirus outbreak.
The state is now positioning itself as a world leader in beating Covid-19, claiming it has successfully weathered the storm with around 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths.
Questions remain over the accuracy of the number of cases, while today China held a three minute silence to remember the victims.
A Chinese national flag flies at half-mast at Potala Palace during the three minutes of silence on April 4
Coronavirus has now infected more than one million people worldwide, and killed more than 60,000.
The epicentre has now shifted from China, with the US and many European nations leading the figures on infections and deaths.
US President Donald Trump has suggested China may be hiding the true number, but has simultaneously also praised the nation for its handling of the crisis.
No evidence has definitively shown that China’s death toll is higher than the official figures.
Various disturbing reports have emerged however, including suggesting the death toll in the city of Wuhan alone may be more than 40,000.
Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK last week reported that hospitals in Wuhan have been refusing to test patients who showed symptoms to keep numbers down.
Japanese outlet Kyodo News reported that the numbers had been “manipulated” before President Xi visited Wuhan a few weeks ago.
The Epoch Times reported in February that crematoriums in the city were burning at least 100 bodies a day to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Death tolls are climbing worldwide after coronavirus first originated in China
US congressman Michael McCaul also accused China of the “one of the worst cover-ups in human history” last month while speaking on Fox News.
He accused the Communisty Party of a “systematic whitewash” and called for an international investigation to “hold the Chinese government to account”.
Mr McCaul, a Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Now we have a global pandemic that originated out of Wuhan.
“They allowed millions of people to come to Wuhan to celebrate their Spring festival.
“Five million of them leading the area and traveling domestically and abroad – they went into laboratories and shut them down – destroyed laboratory samples and they detained eight of the doctors trying to speak the truth about what really happened in Wuhan.”
Coronavirus continues to spread across the world at an alarming rate
Despite the speculation however, the World Health Organisation praised China and President Xi for their handling of Covid-19 back in February.
WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The logic doesn’t support the idea [of a cover up]. It’s wrong to jump to conclusions.”
He added: “Nobody knows for sure if they were hiding [anything].”
Half the world’s population are now in lockdown as governments attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
Britain today suffered its deadliest day as 708 were confirmed dead – raising the total to 4,353.
And as the UK bathes in sunshine this weekend, people have been urged to please stay home at not risk triggering a new wave of coronavirus cases.
Chinese police officers wear protective masks as they march in formation during the tribute to coronavirus victims on April 4