As I’ve pointed out a couple of times recently, China’s zero Covid lockdowns continue to impact hundreds of millions of people throughout the country, even though it’s having a negative impact on the country’s economy. But there’s some indication that the impact could be much worse over the long term than it is in the short term. In May the South China Morning Post reported on the uptick in professionals looking to leave China.

Emigration consultants in China have seen a rise in enquiries in recent months, with a noticeable spike since the end of March when outbreaks of the Omicron variant emerged in Shanghai…

There are no hard statistics indicating how widespread interest is in leaving the country, but the keyword “immigration” jumped 400 times in the past month, according to the Baidu Index, which covers multiple social media platforms. A similar increase was also evident on the WeChat platform…

Guo Shize, a partner at Ying Zhong Law Offices in Beijing, which specialises in immigration and overseas study consultancy services, said his firm has seen a doubling of interest since the end of March, with a shift from high-net worth individuals to more technical professionals.

Guo said more clients were interested in the United States’ EB-1 visa – for individuals with extraordinary abilities in science, arts, education, business and athletics – ahead of the EB-5 investment category, the previous front runner.

“Many of my clients are engineers with big IT firms such as Huawei, technology company entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical industry executives,” he said.

A young engineer who is now working in California said he no longer has any interest in returning to China: “My original plan was to return to China after graduation but now I tend to seek opportunities in Singapore because I feel that individuals are so helpless under the state apparatus and individual rights are not respected (in China).”

The state media outlet Global Times responded to the story calling it nonsense:

It is nonsense to hype the so-called flight of scientific and technological talent from China due to the epidemic control measures. Facing ferocious Omicron flare-up, it is true that economic activities and people’s normal lives in Shanghai and other places in China have suffered a degree of impact, but any clear mind will understand that these temporary difficulties came with the control measures are in exchange for protecting public health and building up solid foundation for the subsequent economic recovery.

But a story published today by Fortune suggests there really is an uptick in well-off people who are suddenly worried about where China is headed. And if they are able to leave, they will take a lot of their personal fortunes with them.

…faced with a continued “zero-COVID” future, China’s rich are plotting their escape. Around 10,000 high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) in China are seeking to leave their country this year and could take $48 billion in wealth with them, according to a new wealth migration report by Henley and Partners, an investment migration consultancy. Hong Kong’s numbers also rank high. The special autonomous region of China—which has pursued a similarly strict “dynamic-zero” COVID policy under Beijing’s watchful eye—is home to around 3,000 HNWI who are planning to leave this year, worth $12 billion…

By March, searches on WeChat—China’s most popular messaging and social media app—for “how to move to Canada” surged 3,000%, according to a report from think tank the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). In April, 23% of respondents for a European Chamber of Commerce survey said they were considering moving their investments in China to other countries. By May, Chinese netizens had dubbed the mass movement of people wanting to emigrate the run philosophy. A post on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website akin to Quora, explaining the term has now been viewed over 9 million times.

“I can’t change or condemn the current situation in China,” Clara Xie, a 25-year-old Jiangsu-based model, told the New York Times in May. “And if you can’t change it, all you can do is run.”

But Chinese authorities have enforced tough barriers aimed at preventing a mass exodus of people and money.

In May, China’s immigration department announced that it would stringently “restrict the nonessential exit activities of Chinese citizens…and strictly [enforce] strict exit and entry policies,” citing the need to contain the virus. Many in China viewed these measures as a way for the authorities to avert major brain and capital drain.

Whether or not these individuals will be allowed to run is a separate question. But the fact remains that zero Covid has been a wake up call for a lot of people that a one-party communist state can be an intolerable place to live precisely because no one but Xi Jinping has any say in what happens there.

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