Is it possible to be a billionaire in China and still be free?
Chinese-style capitalism means telling entrepreneurs that they are free to do business, but only under certain conditions. Those who don’t respect these conditions face very complicated situations, such as Bao Fan, a Chinese billionaire who suddenly disappeared.
In fact, the Chinese government’s message is very clear: “Work for China, and China won’t reward you”.
Bao Fan is the founder of China Renaissance Holdings, whose clients include internet giants Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu, and is considered a titan of the Chinese technology sector.
Mr. Bao’s case followed a well-trodden path: he disappeared for several days before his company announced that he was “cooperating with an investigation conducted by certain authorities in the People’s Republic of China”.
It’s the same old story: no one knows which government agency is conducting the investigation, what it’s about or where Mr. Bao is.
The mystery surrounding his disappearance comes after a number of Chinese business leaders have gone missing in recent years, including Alibaba boss Jack Ma.
While the disappearance of billionaires tends to attract attention, there have also been a number of less publicized cases of Chinese citizens disappearing after taking part, for example, in anti-government protests or human rights campaigns.
Mr. Bao’s disappearance has once again highlighted the idea that this is one of the means used by President Xi Jinping to reinforce his control over the Chinese economy.
The disappearance came as the National People’s Congress (NPC), a rubber-stamp parliament, approached this week to announce plans for the biggest overhaul of China’s financial regulatory system in years.
A new financial regulatory watchdog will be set up to oversee most financial sectors. Authorities said this would fill the current gaps caused by the multiplicity of agencies overseeing different aspects of China’s trillion-dollar financial services industry.
In 2015 alone, at least five executives became unreachable, including Guo Guangchang, chairman of conglomerate Fosun International, best known in the West for owning English Premier League soccer club Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Mr. Guo disappeared in December of the same year, and his company announced after his reappearance that he had participated in the investigation.
Two years later, Chinese-Canadian businessman Xiao Jianhua was abducted from a luxury hotel in Hong Kong. He had been one of China’s richest people and had been jailed last year for corruption.
In March 2020, property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang disappeared after calling Mr. Xi a “clown” for his handling of the pandemic. Later that year, after a one-day trial, Mr. Ren was sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption.
The most talked-about billionaire is Alibaba founder Jack Ma. China’s richest person at the time disappeared at the end of 2020 after criticizing the country’s financial regulators.