Property tycoon Wang Shi yesterday defended the rights of businessmen like himself to speak up on political issues, citing disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai's efforts to enlist his support for his controversial campaigns in Chongqing.
The China Vanke chairman said the experience taught him that entrepreneurs could not avoid trouble by staying silent and must allow their voices to be heard to help protect themselves against political retribution.
He said they should also consider working with civilian think tanks and lawyers to set up a fund to defend businesspeople who fall foul of the law.
Even by raising the issue at a business seminar on the recent execution of Hunan property developer Zeng Chengjie, Wang was breaking with the mainland business community's usual practice of not wading into political issues.
The seminar was organised by the Unirule Institute of Economics, a research group founded by several economists from top mainland universities. It was held on Tuesday, but Wang's comments were reported by Wen Wei Po yesterday.
Wang said on his microblog last month that his decision not to publicly condemn Bo's purge of Chongqing businessmen in the name of cracking down on triads was "cowardice, wrong behaviour".
His comments renewed a debate on whether entrepreneurs should talk politics just weeks after Lenovo's founder, Liu Chuanzhi, said, in a private meeting with businessmen including Wang and Alibaba's Jack Ma, that they should "stay out of politics and talk only business".
To illustrate his point, Wang recalled how Bo once invited him to a meeting and asked him to hold a news conference to support his policies in Chongqing.
But Wang, whose company is the mainland's biggest property developer, balked at the request because he did not want to be seen as supporting Bo's campaign to revive Maoist culture and his hardline effort to crack down on organised crime.
Wang did not say when the invitation was made, but he believed he might have suffered if Bo had not been indicted on corruption charges and had been able to secure higher office.
"Could I have escaped from him?" Wang was quoted as saying.
Wang said he now believed he should have met Bo and told him he disagreed with his policies. Businessmen "could not stay far away" from trouble by staying silent, he said.
The seminar in Beijing was called to discuss the fallout from Zeng's execution last month. Zeng had been convicted of illegally raising 3.45 billion yuan (HK$4.34 billion).