Premier Li: Beijing eyes market, as inconvenient entrepreneurs keep disappearing

The latest case is that of investor Bao Fan. The hi-tech sector targeted. Xi Jinping does not want tycoons who are too rich to challenge his power. The best known, Jack Ma, has been missing for over two years. The supreme leader launches an 'investigation' campaign with a Maoist flavour.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - On a visit to the southern province of Hunan, newly appointed premeir Li Qiang said yesterday that China will create a market-oriented economic ecosystem. The continuing "disappearance" of Chinese businessmen, especially in the hi-tech branch, sends out an diametricly opposed message to foreign investors, who are worried by Xi Jinping's new "centralist" course.

The latest case is that of investor Bao Fan, active in the technology sector. The founder of China Renaissance Holdings, whose clients include the likes of Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, disappeared on 16 February. After 10 days, his company issued a statement saying that Bao was cooperating in an investigation with 'some' national authorities.

The tycoon's disappearance came shortly before the annual session of the National People's Congress, which ratified Xi's decision to centralise control over financial activities and the development of the technology sector in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (and thus in his own).

Since 2015, there has been a succession of disappearances and arrests of prominent entrepreneurs. The case of the dissident billionaire Ren Zhiqiang, sentenced in September 2020 to 18 years in prison for corruption offences, is worth mentioning: on the eve of his disappearance, six months earlier, he had made headlines for publishing an article on the web in which he called Xi a 'power-hungry clown'.

The most striking exit, however, is that of Jack Ma. The founder of Alibaba disappeared in late 2020 after criticising the country's financial regulators, which was followed by a downsizing of the company. Ma has not been seen in China since: he would be in Thailand, Japan or Australia.

Analysts note that Xi is most likely worried about losing political control in the face of businessmen amassing vast wealth. The squeeze concerns the technology sector first because it is the one that flourished during the years of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, his predecessors. In addition to Alibaba, the authorities have not spared even Didi and Tencent, which like Ma's business empire have been investigated for alleged regulatory violations.

More generally, with the recognition of a third term in power for Xi, the Party is even more committed to limiting dissent and depowering the oligarchs whose economic might could threaten the general secretary's pre-eminent role.

In addition to the redistributive campaign for 'common prosperity', Xi has launched an 'enquiry' campaign to listen to the voice of the 'masses'. As Radio Free Asia pointed out, the regime's willingness to seek opinions from the population is reminiscent of an initiative by Mao Zedong in the 1950s, which later proved to be a ploy to identify people not in line with Party dictates, so that they could then be purged in the 'spirit of struggle'.