As published on msn.com, Sunday 12 February, 2023.
Singapore is emerging as a playground for Chinese millionaires who are snapping up high-end properties, luxury cars and private club memberships and dodging Xi Jinping’s clampdown on the elite.
Investment experts have reported a flood of Chinese clients to the Asian city-state over the past year, with a boom in enquiries since China’s borders reopened in December.
Beijing’s recent crackdown on tech billionaires and high-profile celebrities accused of tax evasion has helped to push wealthy elites into seeking a safe harbour for their assets. Once there, they can spend with abandon in the politically-stable country that is known for its tax-friendly regime and where Mandarin is widely spoken.
Chinese investors have been splashing out on luxury homes with waterfront views on Sentosa Island, which also houses a casino and a prestigious golf club, where membership for foreigners has reportedly doubled from 2019 to £550,000.
“You cannot imagine the way they spend money. It’s crazy,” Pearce Cheng, chief executive of AIMS, a relocation services firm, told AFP.
He recalled attending a Chinese client’s party where a rare Japanese “Yamazaki 55” whisky, worth around $800,000 (£663,000) a bottle, was served.
Singapore’s new arrivals have pushed up sales of Bentleys and Rolls-Royces and also sent rents surging 21 per cent in the first nine months of 2022. Home prices have risen by about 8 per cent.
The real estate market has gone “beserk” according to Dominic Volek, head of the Singapore office at Henley & Partners, an investment migration consultancy.
He recounted an anecdote of a family renting a house for £10,000 a month whose landlord hiked it to more than £26,000. They moved out and within a week, a Chinese family had moved in, he said. “Anyone in the wealth management industry is smiling.”
The Chinese ultra-rich feel they are being “penalised” by some government policies, Ryan Lin, a director at Bayfront Law in Singapore, told The Telegraph, citing the treatment of Chinese tycoon Jack Ma as contributing to this perception.
“That also set the minds of the rich to see whether they might be better off managing some of their wealth in a country that is outside China,” he said.
Mr Ma, an outspoken billionaire who founded one of the world’s largest tech giants Alibaba, went missing for three months at the end of 2020 and also lost an estimated $25 billion (£20.7 billion) when Chinese regulators pulled the plug on a blockbuster initial public offering.
Philippe May, managing director of EC Holdings, which facilitates the acquisition of overseas citizenship, agreed that “uneasiness with the political environment in China,” was fuelling an exodus.
“Everybody feels it is going in the wrong direction,” he said, pointing to growing fears about “arbitrary detention, expropriation, trumped up charges, extensive investigations”.
The emigration trend appeared to pick up last year, following a government attempt to target industries like technology and education in its push for “common prosperity”, or moderate wealth for all.
Since Beijing’s sudden decision to dismantle Covid travel restrictions, Henley & Partners alone have seen a 600 per cent rise in enquiries from Hong Kong and China; a new wave in an already steady tide of Chinese migrants.
Fatigue with draconian Covid-19 curbs has also spurred the influx of Chinese expats to Singapore.
Constance Li, a mother in her 30s, said she was relieved to escape pandemic restrictions when she moved to Singapore six months ago for work, along with her son and parents.
“After I got the offer, a series of things including the Shanghai lockdown happened. At that time, I felt that the situation in China was not good, so it was a wise decision to get out.”