Trump Hurts Popularity of U.S. With China's Millionaires

 | Jul 19, 2017 | 1:00 PM EDT
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The popularity of the United States has been falling among Chinese emigrants since Donald Trump took over the presidency, suggesting his staunch anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail is weighing on Chinese minds.

But the United States remains the most-attractive destination for Chinese people keen to move abroad, according to the Immigration and the Chinese HNWI 2017 report, put out by the Hurun Research Institute and Visas Consulting Group.

Los Angeles has been the top target city for Chinese emigrants and property buyers for each of the past four years, including 2017. Seattle has surged up the ranks every year and is now the next-best spot, finally relegating San Francisco to third. New York, Vancouver and Boston round out the top six.

New Zealand, broadly, as well as Sydney and Melbourne in Australia also rank high in attractiveness. I have friends in Hong Kong who feel a strong draw to the Land of the Long White Cloud, as New Zealand and its foggy mountains are known in Maori. China's pollution-choked populace yearn for wide open pristine spaces, and food they can chew on without fear.

The key drivers for emigration out of China are the quest for good education (cited by 76% of respondents as a key factor for leaving their homeland) and the search for a good living environment (cited by 64% of emigrants). The need for good medical care (29%) also ranks up there as a reason to leave.

There are also factors holding would-be Chinese migrants back. Long waiting times for visas are the top obstacle (a block for 27% of respondents), followed by language barriers and the fear that a Chinese emigrant will struggle to integrate into mainstream life in a new nation. 

Sheer loneliness is also another negative. Chinese people get a bad reputation for remaining within a Chinese protective bubble overseas, for not settling in, picking up the customs, or learning the language. But it takes time. Many populations find it a little easier to settle in to a new nation with familiar-looking faces and sounds around. 

I've been an expatriate for two-thirds of my life, and it's not easy at first to leave behind all you've known and make a home for yourself in a new place. It requires persistence and drive to make the change -- immigrants, in my experience, are some of the hardest-working, most-ambitious and adaptable people on the planet, a mile from the benefits-begging mirage created by many politicians.

Of course, not all Chinese people are the same -- a billion people have a billion different motivations. There are significant differences within China as to what keeps people from moving abroad.

The big-city, wealthy and individualistic population in the south and on the east coast say long wait times for visas, language barriers and loneliness are the main obstacles.

Those from northern and western China, which are more rural and less developed even in major cities, say they struggle through the applications themselves, are unhappy that they cannot emigrate with their families, and are worried about high costs overseas.

Besides moving internationally, there's substantial mobility within the country. One-third (34%) of wealthy Chinese people are considering moving to another city in China, the survey finds. Half (46%) want to move to Tier 1 cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen.

That spells good news for real estate in those cities. Chinese home prices will continue to rise a total of 26% over the next three years, say the 60% of China's wealthy who expect property gains.

The United Kingdom ranks behind the United States and Canada as the most-desired international destination as a nation. London is seeing an increase in inflows of Chinese yuan, both from individual buyers and corporations.

Property is a prime place to put money, and as I explained in yesterday's story on the attractiveness of London and its Nine Elms regeneration in particular is a destination for real-estate investment.

Australia is No. 4 on the priority list, but tax havens, places that give incentives to new arrivals, and nations that grant easy citizenship and passports are also popular.

That explains the rest of the top 10 destinations for immigration, which include surprises such as Malta (No. 5), Antigua (No. 9) and Dominica (No. 10). The European Union nations of Portugal, Ireland and Spain all provide monetary or tax incentives, and of course grant access to the rest of the EU once residence is established, explaining their presence on the list.

Separate figures show an almost desperate rush for the exits out of China, although many citizens return after establishing an escape hatch after acquiring overseas citizenship or residence.

Among China's millionaires, 47% saying they want to emigrate within five years when polled by Barclays on that topic in 2014. That was far ahead of second-place Singapore, where 23% of the wealthy want to leave.

U.S. and Indian millionaires are the greatest homebodies, only 6% of the American rich and 5% in India want to leave.

The figure was only 16% for Hong Kong. But the city's rights and autonomy within China are eroded every day. That much is crystal clear with the recent removal of six members of congress, the Legislative Council.

Hong Kong residents have also been abducted from the city to face charges in the mainland, a flagrant violation of "One Country, Two Systems." And there are repeated "interpretations" by China of the city's constitution, the Basic Law, that insert words where they are not. The process basically renders Hong Kong's independent judiciary meaningless, since Beijing overturns or rewrites any law it finds inconvenient to suit its own purposes.

As a result, I wouldn't be surprised to see that 16% double or even triple, to match China's figure. After all, Hong Kong is experiencing the same lack of rights that have always existed within mainland China.

Around 30% of the Chinese polled -- the survey took in 2,000 people in 17 countries -- said they wanted to move to Hong Kong. With anti-mainland sentiment growing, and the border blurred, expect that figure to have plummeted. 

The figures of Chinese looking to depart are even more dramatic according to figures from Business Insider and ChinaFile. Of the very rich, with more than $16 million in assets, 33% of the Chinese have already emigrated. Among Chinese millionaires, 64% have already emigrated or want to do so.

The money is flowing from East to West, and it makes sense to invest with that powerful tide.

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