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China sees bright side of elite exodus
By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - While optimism is growing about the inevitability of the Middle Kingdom rising as a world power, more rich and talented Chinese individuals are migrating overseas, particularly to Western countries. This is prompting concerns in China about a capital and brain drain.
Cynics are even saying that members of the social elite are "voting with their feet" in a no confidence ballot over the country's future. This phenomenon was widely talked about and seen in Hong Kong before 1997 when the former British colony was about to be handed back to China. Many had no confidence in Beijing's promise about "one country two systems" and rushed to countries like Canada, Austria and New Zealand.
However, the more recent increase in migration could be interpreted as a sign of China's increasingly open economy and society. What we are talking about is legal outbound investment and immigration. Activities such as money laundering and illegal immigration are another topic.
In the era of globalization flows of capital and personnel are important aspects of an open economy. As far as China is concerned, the inflow of foreign capital far exceeds the outflow of Chinese capital (including funds taken out by migrating Chinese). With the influx of foreign investment, many foreigners also come to work and live in China, though most do not seek Chinese citizenship.
Many Chinese migrate through investment immigration schemes. Until recent years, the major reason for Chinese nationals to leave the country, legally or illegally, was to escape poverty.
According to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office under the State Council, China's cabinet, the number of Chinese nationals living abroad exceeded 45 million last year - excluding residents in Hong Kong and Macao. However, it did not give a breakdown. Nor did it say whether the figure included Chinese workers and students overseas. It is certain that the absolute majority of them were Chinese migrants. According to the Ministries of Commerce and Education, there are about 1 million Chinese workers and 1.5 million Chinese students overseas.
While almost all countries in the world attract Chinese migrants, Western countries see the most. Canada is one example, "From 1999 to 2008, over 400,000 Chinese had obtained right of abode in Canada," according to Qi Lixin, president of the Beijing Entry and Exit Service Association.
This is mainly because these countries, after the global financial crisis in 2008, have eased restrictions on investment immigration to attract foreign capital and create job opportunities. This provides a good opportunity for Chinese.
For instance, according to US immigration statistics, from October 2008 to May 2009, about 1,795 Chinese households applied for the EB-5 visa for investment immigration, more than the number of applicants from any other country. Canada's Quebec handled 5,108 investment immigration applications in 2009, of which 70% came from China.
The US requires that a family has at least US$500,000 to qualify for the EB-5 visa. Canada's requirement for investment immigration is C$400,000 (US$419,156 ). A Chinese applicant also has to pay a considerable fee to an immigration agency. All in all, a qualified applicant must have several million yuan in hand in cash. But many Chinese today can certainly qualify.
According to a Hu Run, or Rupert Hoogewerf - a British citizen living in China who compiles an annual "China Rich List", by end of 2010 the number of multimillionaires in China totaled 960,000 with 60,000 of them having wealth exceeding 100 million yuan ($15.39 million). Their average age was just 39. This, along with the younger generation's willingness to live aboard, may explain the tide of investment immigration.
The upsurge of investment immigration to foreign countries has led to accusations that wealthy Chinese "made money in China and are now fleeing the country". More serious commentators are discussing why they want to leave China.
Such discussions will likely lead nowhere, however, since immigration is a personal decision. Some may desire a better education for their children, some may want to enjoy different lifestyle, others may want greater freedom or see more business opportunities overseas. In any case, they seek something they cannot get in China - that's all.
However, one good point drawn from those discussions is that China must improve its protection of private property and investment, as some wealthy Chinese may not feel secure due to lack of legal protection and corruption.
In fact, allowing its citizens to freely travel or migrate to other countries is a sign that China is becoming a more open society. And people should welcome it. In this regard, it is good to see that Beijing is open-minded toward immigration. Last year, in commenting on the phenomenon, Xu Yousheng, a vice minister in charge of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, said the Chinese government "firstly, will respect [a citizen's choice], as to right to migration is a very important part of human rights; and will, secondly, protect new Chinese migrants' legal interests overseas; and will guide new Chinese migrants to respect the law of their host countries and to integrate themselves into local society."
Such an attitude