- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2011

BEIJING — Chinese millionaire Su builds skyscrapers in Beijing and is one of the people powering China’s economy on its path to becoming the world’s biggest.

He sits at the top of a country - economy booming, influence spreading, military swelling - widely expected to dominate the 21st century.

Yet the property developer shares something surprising with many newly rich in China: He’s looking forward to the day he can leave.

Mr. Su’s reasons: He wants to protect his assets, he has to watch what he says in China, and he wants a second child, something against the law for many Chinese.

The millionaire spoke to the Associated Press on the condition that only his surname would be used because of fears of government reprisals that could damage his business.

China’s richest increasingly are investing abroad to get a foreign passport and make international business and travel easier, but also to give them a way out of China.

The United States is the most popular destination for Chinese emigrants, with rich Chinese praising its education and health care systems.

Last year, nearly 68,000 Chinese-born people became legal permanent residents of the U.S., 7 percent of the total and second only to those born in Mexico. Canada and Australia are also popular.

It is a bothersome trend for China’s communist leaders, who have pinned the legitimacy of one-party rule on delivering rapid economic growth and a rising standard of living.

They have succeeded in lifting tens of millions of ordinary Chinese out of poverty while also creating a new class of superrich. Yet affluence alone seems a poor bargain to those with the means to live elsewhere.

Despite more economic freedom, the communist government has kept its tight grip on many other aspects of daily life.

China’s leaders punish, sometimes harshly, public dissent and any perceived challenges to their power, and they censor what can be read online and in print.

Authoritarian rule, meanwhile, has proved ineffective in addressing long-standing problems of pollution, contaminated food and an antiquated health care system.

“In China, nothing belongs to you. Like buying a house. You buy it, but it will belong to the country 70 years later,” Mr. Su said, lamenting the government’s land-leasing system.

“But abroad, if you buy a house, it belongs to you forever,” he said. “Both businessmen and government officials are like this. They worry about the security of their assets.”

Leo Liu, marketing manager at the Beijing emigration consultant company Goldlink Go-Abroad Consulting Co., said the company has noticed an increasing trend of rich Chinese wanting to emigrate, particularly to Canada, in the 15 years since it was founded.

The main reasons people want to move abroad, he said, are for their children’s education and better health care.

Some, such as corrupt government officials and businesspeople, want to leave because they got their money illegally, but others are inspired by friends who already have emigrated to the U.S.

“They want to get a green card, even though they may still do business here in China,” Mr. Liu said. “They might have sent their wife and children abroad.

“And some of them just love life in a foreign country, the Western style,” he said.

There also is a yawning gap between rich and poor in China, which feeds a resentment that makes some of the wealthy uncomfortable.

The country’s uneven jump to capitalism over the past three decades has created dozens of billionaires, but China barely ranks in the top 100 on a World Bank list of countries by income per person.

Getting a foreign passport is like “taking out an insurance policy,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, who compiles the Hurun Rich List, China’s version of the Forbes list.

“If there is political unrest or suddenly things change in China - because it’s a big country, something could go wrong - they already have a passport to go overseas. It’s an additional safety net.”

Among the 20,000 Chinese with at least $15 million in individual investment assets, 27 percent already have emigrated and 47 percent are considering it, according to a report by China Merchants Bank and U.S. consultants Bain & Co. published in April.

Nearly 60 percent of the people surveyed said worries over their children’s education are a reason for wanting to leave.

A millionaire who works in the coal industry, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the main push behind his plans to emigrate is China’s test-centric school system, often criticized for producing students who can pass exams but lack skills for the world of work.

He will take his 7-year-old to the U.S. as soon as the child graduates from junior high at an international school in Beijing where pupils are instructed in English.

“The U.S. has a good educational system and excellent health care,” said the 39-year-old, who has three homes in China and assets worth $5 million. “That’s why we look forward to going there.”

Other top motivations cited in the Merchants Bank study are to protect assets and to prepare for retirement. Also cited as reasons for leaving: having more children and making it easier to develop an overseas business.

Alongside increased emigration there also has been a massive outflow of private money from China despite its strict currency controls. The report estimates that rich Chinese - those with assets of more than $1.6 million - have about $564 billion invested overseas.

“The Chinese economy now looks like a massive funnel,” said Zhong Dajun, director of the nongovernmental Dajun Center for Economic Observation & Studies in Beijing.

Mr. Zhong said it is mostly corrupt government officials who transfer entire fortunes overseas because the fortunes have been acquired illegally and the officials “have fears and feel guilty.”

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