Jiangsu billionaire's call to declare nationality strikes a chord

Billionaire Chen Guangbiao will propose rich mainlanders disclose both their assets and nationality as exodus of millionaires continues

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 5:06am

Jiangsu billionaire Chen Guangbiao, who made a fortune by recycling construction materials and is famous for his flashy philanthropy, has made headlines again by calling on the authorities to publish details of rich mainlanders' assets and what passports they hold.

A 2011 survey by the Bank of China and the Hurun Report found more than half the mainland's millionaires were either considering emigrating or had applied to do so, with America the destination of choice.

One internet user wrote on the 163.com news portal that "the rich are leaving China like rats deserting a sinking ship".

Chen, chairman of Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources, said he would propose at the annual meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March that business executives and entertainment stars with assets of more than 10 million yuan (HK$12.3 million) and who were based in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Jiangsu should reveal their assets and nationality status, China National Radio reported.

He said releasing details of their nationality was necessary because more and more of them had acquired foreign passports and registered companies abroad to launder money. Last year's Hurun Wealth Report said there were 1.02 million people on the mainland who owned assets worth at least 10 million yuan.

Chen said the police, customs authorities and commerce departments should establish a joint team to monitor whether any business executives had hidden foreign passports and were engaged in tax evasion or dodgy investments.

He volunteered to be among the first batch of tycoons to reveal their assets and nationality.

Public resentment about affluent mainlanders securing foreign passports while continuing to do business at home flared in November after reports that South Beauty Group chairwoman Zhang Lan , who runs a chain of upmarket Sichuanese restaurants, had given up her Chinese citizenship. She had previously boasted of her "patriotism", saying she turned down a chance to obtain Canadian citizenship two decades ago.

Zhang later wrote to the CPPCC branch in Beijing's Chaoyang district, tendering her resignation as a member of the government advisory body.

China has witnessed three massive waves of emigration since it embarked on reform and opening up in the late 1970s.

The first wave occurred in the early 1980s, when mainlanders emigrated to study or reunite with family members after many years of separation forced by the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. In the second wave, in the mid-1990s, people moved abroad and obtained overseas residency by capitalising on their knowhow and professional skills. The third exodus, since 2000, has been mainly based on investment-led migration.

Mainland millionaires have been abandoning their Chinese passports for a range of reasons: better education for their children, a cleaner environment, safer food, lower medical expenses and legal systems that pay more than lip service to rule of law.

Many say secretly that they envy Westerners' freedom of speech and the right to vote for their countries' leaders, in strong contrast to the situation on the mainland.

Some wealthy people have told mainland media that they have shifted huge amounts of money abroad because they don't feel its safe in China.

Professor Zhang Ming , from Renmin University, told the Xinmin Weekly that the exodus of millionaires would not only result in the loss of talent and money, but would also set an example for others.

A lot of mainland people have mixed feelings about wealthy emigrants. One the one hand, they denounce the tycoons and stars for "betraying the motherland"; but on the other hand, they admit they would want to go too if they were rich enough.

One internet posting said ordinary mainlanders often bitterly described themselves as "pariahs", breathing badly polluted air, eating food cooked in gutter oil and drinking melamine-tainted milk.

Given the long queues of would-be emigrants in front of the American embassy and consulates, the central government should reflect on why so many people want to leave the country.

If the trend continues, its vision of a "Chinese Renaissance" will be a flight of fancy.