(p. B1) For decades, China’s business class had an unspoken contract with the Communist Party: Let us make money and we’ll turn a blind eye to how you use your power.
Like most Chinese people, they bought into the party’s argument that its one-party rule provides more efficient governance.
Now, the tacit agreement that entrepreneurs had come to count on is dissolving in front of their eyes.
. . .
(p. B5) “Under the leadership of this dictator, our great country is falling into an abyss,” said a hardware tech executive in Shenzhen. “But you can’t do anything about it. It pains and depresses me.”
Despite many conversations over the years, we never talked about politics. I was surprised when he called after the party congress to talk about his “political depression.” He said he used to be very nationalistic, believing that the Chinese were among the smartest and hardest-working people in the world. Now, he and many of his friends spend most of their time hiking, golfing and drinking. “We’re too depressed to work,” he said.
Until a year ago, his start-up was doing so well that he was planning to take it public. Then he lost a big chunk of his revenues, and his new hires sat idly with nothing to do when cities were locked down under the “zero-Covid” rules. He said now he had no choice but to lay off more than 100 people, sell his business and move his family to North America.
“Since the dark night has descended,” he said, “I’ll deal with it the dark night way.”
The tech entrepreneur from Beijing who texted me after the party congress recounted a chilling experience. In May, when there were rumors that Beijing could be locked down, he felt he could not tell his employees to leave work early and stock up on groceries. He was worried that he could be reported for spreading rumors — something that had gotten people detained by the police. He told them only that they should feel free to leave early if they had things to take care of.
This successful businessman is now applying to emigrate to a European country and the United States.
Just like many ordinary Chinese people, the executives I spoke to said they were horrified by the video of Hu Jintao, Mr. Xi’s predecessor as China’s top leader, being abruptly led out of the closing ceremony of the party congress. They did not accept the official government explanation that Mr. Hu had to leave early because of health issues.
If Mr. Xi could remove his predecessor like that, several of them said, he could do anything to anyone.
A well-connected investor in Beijing said his friends who were entrepreneurs now realized they could no longer remain indifferent to politics. At social gatherings, they have started discussing which countries to seek passports from, and how to move their assets offshore. At social gatherings, hosts are asking friends to surrender their phones to be kept in a separate place for fear of surveillance.
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(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 7, 2022, and has the title “China’s Business Elite See the Country That Let Them Thrive Slipping Away.”)