Do half of China’s millionaires really want to emigrate? Not exactly

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

Half of China’s wealthiest men and women are eager to leave their home country, according to a report from Barclays released this week. Specifically, up to 47% of Chinese with more than $1.5 million in total net worth surveyed by the bank would like to move abroad, compared to the global average of 29%, the report said.

But as Adam Minter, an author and columnist for Bloomberg, points out, the survey is based on a small and unrepresentative subsection of Chinese millionaires—those willing to speak to a stranger about sensitive financial matters. Minter’s point gets at the heart of what is difficult about dissecting the behavior of China’s oligarchs: most of them are intensely secretive and work hard to stay out of the limelight.

Conspicuous wealth makes Chinese businessmen and women a target for the country’s anti-corruption authorities. A study in 2012 found that Chinese listed on the Shanghai-based Hurun Rich List were more likely to be investigated and more likely to see the market value of their listed companies fall. And emigration is particularly sensitive, as Beijing has recently pledged to pursue some 150 “economic fugitives” living in the United States.

It makes sense for Chinese entrepreneurs and wealthy to at least remain close to China. “The reality is that most ultra-high net worth individuals in China are probably making money in China right now,” Liam Bailey, a researcher at the broker Knight Frank LLP said in the report (pdf. p.14). “So, for business reasons, they need to be relatively close. That might prevent some of them going further afield,” he said.

Indeed, of the Chinese polled, 30% said their top emigration destination was the semi-autonomous territory Hong Kong. If Hong Kong is stripped out, only about 34% of Chinese surveyed want to leave the mainland. As Minter noted, That’s a lower percentage of eager-to-emigrate millionaires in Qatar and on par with those in Latin America.

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