Taiwanese businessmen working in China are feeling the heat of the ongoing anti-corruption campaign and are looking to get out of China. What had been a favorable business environment has rapidly changed, as the high-ranking Party officials who looked after their businesses have been purged, according to freelance Taiwanese writer Hong Boxue in his article published on the independent news website Taiwan People News on Jan. 10.
In an article entitled “Taiwanese Businessmen Seeking Ways to Escape China,” Hong said that Taiwanese businessmen who are deeply entrenched in China’s business culture of having a “protector,” are in a difficult spot after the fall of big tigers like Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou, and Ling Jihua.
“Big tigers” is jargon for very high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials. Zhou Yongkang was formerly the head of domestic security in China and Xu Caihou was a second in command of China’s military.
“To those who really know how business in China operates, if you don’t have a ‘protector,’ you cannot do anything. Money cannot buy anything,” Hong wrote. “If your ‘protector’ is still in power, having a picture of him posted at the building’s entrance could ward off little ghosts looking for trouble—officials from customs, the tax bureau, and even local low-ranking officials.”
“However, once the ‘protector’ steps down, there comes trouble,” Hong wrote.
In Western society, the law governs corporations, but in China the law cannot protect an honest businessman, according to Hong. And one needs more than a single official to protect one’s business.
“You cannot have one single protector, because China is so huge, and your protector, who might be working in Beijing, might not have local influence,” Hong added.
Many Taiwanese businessmen are escaping China for fear of being implicated in the fall of one tiger with whom they have strong ties—Ling Jihua, former chief of the United Front Department, which is tasked with the objective of unifying China and Taiwan, according to Hong.
Hong provided an example. A Taiwanese businessman working in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, was interrogated by the local authorities a dozen times, because he had hung a picture of himself with Bo Xilai. Getting that picture taken with Bo had cost the businessman over 10 million yuan (about $1.6 million).
Bo Xilai, the Party boss of the southwestern mega-city of Chongqing, was sentenced in September 2013 to life imprisonment for crimes of “bribery, corruption, and abuse of power.”
Now, the businessman has the picture locked up in a warehouse.
Hong, citing statistics from the Straits Exchange Foundation, the semi-official organization set up by Taiwan to handle affairs with China since the two countries do not have diplomatic ties, stated that over 1,400 Taiwanese businessmen are currently locked up in China, with about four-fifths of these people on a charge of tax evasion.
“Every Taiwanese businessman knows that if your protector goes down, or you have offended a local official, tax auditors will immediately come looking for you,” Hong said.
Currently, there are over 1 million Taiwanese doing business in China, according to the 59th edition of the Chinese magazine Watch Chinese published in April 2010.
To put the dire situation into perspective, Hong said that a lot of the Taiwanese businessmen go out carrying 50,000 US dollars and two cellphones. If they sense some sort of danger, they are ready to abandon their factories and leave.
Getting out of the country is not easy for Taiwanese businessmen, Hong said. “You cannot take the plane. You can only travel by road.”
Hong elaborates that once the businessman reaches southeast China’s Fujian Province, there are many ways to get back to Taiwan—there are ports that were used by mainland Chinese to enter Taiwan illegally that have now become the gateways for Taiwanese businessmen to escape China.
Since no official is likely to hold onto power forever, there is no eternal protector, Hong said.
Translated and written in English by Frank Fang.