Ultra-Wealthy Leaving China as Economy Slows, Restrictions Tighten

Some ultra-wealthy Chinese nationals are moving themselves — and their fortunes — abroad to avoid increasingly rigid restrictions, including oftentimes opaque charges of financial improprieties, according to a recent analysis published by The Guardian.

In a separate report, Forbes identified 562 billionaires in Greater China in 2023, a 7.4 per cent drop from the 607 it recorded in 2022. A similar Forbes analysis recorded over 700 billionaires in the U.S. and 63 billionaires in Canada.


Destination Singapore?

Henley & Partners, a London-based investment migration consultancy firm, estimates about 13,500 Chinese high-net-worth individuals will leave China in 2023, or about 37 a day.

These departures would represent a 25 per cent increase over the 10,800 who emigrated in 2022. And some evidence suggests a significant proportion are choosing to make Singapore their new home.

The number of luxury condos sold in Singapore to wealthy Chinese from the mainland doubled in the first three months of 2023 compared with the same period a year earlier. The number of companies set up to steward a single family’s wealth, called ‘single-family offices,’ has also exploded in Singapore, from 50 in 2018 to more than 1,100 in 2023, with half estimated to be for clients from China.


Dollars and censorship

Many observers say China’s crackdowns on prominent businesspeople — especially those Beijing sees as too influential or too critical of government policy — and its climate of political and economic restrictions are significant motivators for wealthy Chinese leaving the country.

The prolonged 2020 disappearance of Jack Ma, the co-founder of Chinese technology giant Alibaba, after he criticized Chinese financial regulators and banks, is a case in point. Ma returned to public view in early 2021, but only after the abrupt cancellation of the much-hyped initial public offering (IPO) of Ant Group, the Alibaba-affiliated owner of mobile payment platform Alipay.

State censorship, much of it designed to stifle criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his policies, may also push Chinese nationals to leave the country. A recent example is Beijing ordering Chinese media and social media platforms such as WeChat to remain vigilant for “overly effusive” praise for former Chinese premier Li Keqiang, who died last week. Beijing reportedly fears reverence for Li could be veiled criticism of Xi, who has steadily reversed some economic reforms introduced by Li, in favour of greater centralization of power.