BEIJING (AP) — Retired Chinese soccer player Hao Haidong has angered the country’s leadership by allying himself with an eccentric billionaire who has called for the downfall of the Communist government.
Hao appeared Thursday in a lengthy online video swearing allegiance to the “Federal State of New China,” a purported alternative to the ruling Communist Party of China established by Guo Wengui, who lives in exile.
In the video, Hao reads out an 18-point manifesto demanding an end to the current power structure, calling the ruling party a “terrorist organization" that “tramples on democracy,” violates the rule of law and makes contracts it doesn't intend to keep.
He touched on some of the most sensitive topics in China, urging genuine autonomy for Hong Kong, Tibet and the self-governing island of Taiwan. He also accused Beijing of launching “biological warfare” on the world with the coronavirus pandemic, for which there is no evidence.
It wasn't clear when or where the video was made, but its release comes on the 31st anniversary of the military assault on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, along with moves to tighten Beijing’s rule over Hong Kong.
Hao’s account on Weibo, China’s hugely popular all-in-one online communications tool, was swiftly deleted. Sports newspaper Titan issued a posting condemning Hao's “damaging of national sovereignty" and vowing never to report on him again. It referred to Hao only by the first letter of his surname, H.
The 50-year-old Hao was a striker for China's national team and also played for Bayi and Dalian Shide. He also briefly joined English club Sheffield United. He has been out of the sport for more than a decade, drawing occasional attention for his controversial remarks.
Along with current China coach Li Tie, he was a star on the squad that made China’s only World Cup appearance in 2002, in which the national team left after three games without scoring a goal.
Hao still holds the national scoring record with 41 goals in more than 100 appearances for China and is also the all-time lead scorer in the Chinese league with 96 goals.
Over the last several weeks, he has questioned one team’s decision to fire a player for having illegally altered his car’s license plate and disputed the official soccer association’s decision not to televise the Chinese team’s World Cup warmup games against local club teams.
“If the national team feels pressure to play the club teams, how can they cope with it when facing other national teams?” Hao was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency on May 19.
In the past, he has also criticized the decision to allow foreign players to take Chinese citizenship in order to play on the national team and called for the formation of a players union.
Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Guo, fled China amid allegations of financial misdoings and has waged a campaign from New York against president and party leader Xi Jinping and his administration.
Among other stunts, he hired planes to fly over the Hudson River early Thursday morning dragging banners promoting his group and appeared in a video shot on a boat in front of the Statue of Liberty with former Donald Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon.
This report has been corrected to show that Hao did not mention Xinjiang in a video where he read out the manifesto calling for the fall of the Chinese Communist Party.
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