China

China to U.S.: We Want Our Economic Fugitives Back


China’s wealthy elite is fleeing the country for a better quality of life—better education, better air, and greater personal security. China’s Ministry of Public Security has just added a further potential reason: fleeing the police.

“The U.S. has become the top destination for Chinese [economic] fugitives,” Liao Jinrong, a ministry official told state-run China Daily on Monday. According to the English-language newspaper, “More than 150 economic fugitives from China, most of whom are corrupt officials or face allegations of corruption, remain at large in the United States.”

While this is a rather incredible admission, the intent of the article—no doubt placed by China’s propaganda authorities—seems to be to make the case for an extradition treaty between the U.S. and China. “We face practical difficulties in getting fugitives who fled to the US back to face trial due to the lack of an extradition treaty and the complex and lengthy legal procedures,” Liao told the paper.

According to the Hurun Research Institute, which specializes in reports on wealth and luxury in China, fully 64 percent of China’s high-net worth individuals—those with assets exceeding 10 million yuan ($1.6 million)—are contemplating emigration or are already in the process of emigrating. Their top desired destinations: the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia.

Hurun also polled wealthy Chinese emigrants about their reasons for leaving the mainland. The most frequent responses were education (21 percent), pollution (20 percent), food safety (19 percent), social welfare (15 percent), health care (11 percent), wealth security (8 percent), and childbirth/obtaining foreign citizenship for their children (4 percent). To be sure, if “fleeing President Xi Jinping’s corruption crackdown” had been offered as a multiple-choice answer, it’s unlikely that any “economic fugitives” would have answered forthrightly.

The Hurun emigration report drew upon survey responses from 141 Chinese high-net-worth individuals with an average age of 41. Forty-three percent said real estate was their preferred overseas investment vehicle. Nearly a quarter were interested in investing in real estate outside the specific country to which they intended to emigrate.

Last year, Chinese buyers accounted for 12 percent of all international purchases, second only to Canadians, according to (PDF) the National Association of Realtors. Of those transactions, the median home price was a hefty $425,000, and 69 percent were all-cash buys. No wonder the real-estate platform Zillow (Z) has just begun teaming with a Chinese website to make sales listings available in Mandarin.

Larson is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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