Another day of reputation management

“Death to the bloodsucking Han-Kapitalo-Communist vampire piglets wallowing in their lies and filth! Brothers! Sisters! Sharpen your meat cleavers, track them down, and their children and distant relatives, Chop! Chop!”

What a refreshingly forthright way of putting it. It’s a comment below the Chinese version of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ revelations about the Chinese elite’s extensive British Virgin Islands bank accounts.

On the face of it, it looks as if President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, ex-Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and son-in-law, and a host of others have been caught red-handed stuffing appropriated wealth into their personal, private offshore piggybanks. Confirmation of what everyone has long suspected about the kleptocratic nature of the Chinese regime. Alternatively, we can see it as a non-story about the old phenomenon of ‘round-tripping’, whereby Chinese companies get money out of the country by (for example) paying fraudulent trade invoices, and then move it back in as fake inward foreign investment. Just innocent, harmless tax-dodging as engaged in by countless Mainland-based companies run by people not related to top officials.

The thing is that when the most positive spin imaginable has the senior leaders’ families up to their ears in tax-dodging, you surely have a PR problem. This is not legal, honest, manly tax-minimization strategy, as used by law-abiding and upstanding folk like Apple, Starbucks or Mitt Romney. To get the money out, the princelings have to lie to the revenue authorities, as they do to get it back in; these must be criminal offences. Remember, this is the kindest explanation – the one that paints them in the best light.

This comes at exactly the same time that Beijing is lining up its latest butterfly to be broken on the wheel: Xu Zhiyong. The mild-mannered legal academic looks set to get five years in prison for saying there should be less corruption (it makes you wonder what the penalty is for demanding more corruption). Persecuting the guy was going to be challenging enough publicity-wise, given that he is harmless to any but the most paranoid, Mainlanders are increasingly angry about all the hypocrisy, and the world is watching defenceless BBC reporters being shoved around by rabid female cops. All perfect for focusing attention on the Investigative Journalists’ stuff. You couldn’t plan worse publicity if you tried. Time to boost that soft-power budget by a few more billion.

(The Investigative Journalists people basically acquired a drive crammed full of account records sometime ago. They reckon their apparent total of 37,000 Greater China BVI account holders is a huge underestimate, which is probably true – even my neighbour’s cat has a couple. Among the Honkongers, the South China Morning Post has identified one tycoon (just one?) and a pro-Communist labour leader. The fact is that there are many legitimate, if unflattering, reasons for BVI accounts: they can be hard to trace, and therefore ideal for keeping your precious assets out of your beloved but grasping family members’ hands, or they can simply be a safe haven because, despite all that pro-Beijing, I-love-the-motherland shoe-shining over the years, you still feel more comfortable leaving your wealth under the sovereignty of the old empire. Which makes me wonder: why don’t they just rename the place the British Slut Islands? That way, people wouldn’t be so shocked.)

And now for some good PR…

How quick and easy can it become to buy a book? One minute I’m reading that Land and the Ruling Class in HK author Alice Poon has written a work of fiction available as an e-book; three seconds later, with one click on Amazon, I’ve bought it; then, just as I’m wondering how Jeff Bezos even knows I have a ‘device’ (my trusty Samsung Galaxy) to send it to, Fated and Fateless turns up on the Kindle app (which of course is how he knows). Total time from hearing about the book’s existence to flicking through the opening pages: I’m guessing 12 seconds. The answer to the question is that Amazon hope to make the process even faster, to the extent that the time lag will be negative. Next thing, they’ll dispatch your orders before you’re even born.

Don’t be fooled by the girly cover. Set in the 1950s-80s era, it’s (judging by the first few chapters) a tale of good versus evil, in which the rags-to-riches heroine works her way up into a position where she might be able to turn one of Hong Kong’s notoriously greedy, cheating real-estate empires into a force for social good, only to come up against a property tycoon’s spoilt daughter, who apparently comes to some sort of sticky end – hopefully, vividly portrayed and extremely unpleasant. It’s sort of Land and the Ruling Class: the Movie. There is possibly a dash of autobiography, as per a first novel; there are also plentiful resemblances to actual people, living or dead, which are of course entirely coincidental. Strictly for hard-core fans of Hongkongiana, obviously, though if/when it appears in Chinese, it could strike a chord like its non-fiction predecessor.


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6 Responses to Another day of reputation management

  1. Gumshoe says:

    I don’t really blame those people for hiding their wealth because they’re probably afraid it will get stolen from them, too.

  2. Mary Hinge says:

    From the Al Jazeera link:
    “Helen Gao is a freelance writer based in Beijing.”
    She’s also a very brave lady too, for writing what she wrote there.

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Great stuff! Tax is one reason, but isn’t the non-convertibilty of the yuan another? (Converting foreign-foreign yuan to foreign-local yuan, as we say in the trade.)

    And it might not stand up in court, except perhaps one with Chinese characteristics. Some of the leading politicans have foreign(-passported) families, who might have lent the money to invest in HK property, which then…

    Is a HK id number and name enough to open an account in the BVI? Not that I would ever dream of doing so myself of course.

  4. maugrim says:

    Im glad you mentioned Xu Zhiyong. Im sure a secret court hearing with a sentence that is later leaked, long after people have forgotten, will solve the problem of any bad press. Surely in the minds of most HK’ers whose families fled such hijinks is the worry about what we should be preserving here and what is to come.

  5. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Good stuff Hemmers.

    But obviously too deep for a lazy Thursday

    I bought Alice Poon’s “Land and the Ruling Class in HK” over a year ago, but have yet to read it . My first dabble indicated it was pretty deep and turgid, although very valid and true.

  6. maugrim says:

    It could have been worse, it could have been the kind of foreign devil who stooped to lecturing about ‘Asian values’, importing ‘Western ideologies’ that are ‘incompatible with Asian values’ and so on. Lucky we still have expats like this guy:

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