By: Jonathan Manthorphe, Vancouver Sun 

Link to Article no longer available

The Vancouver Sun today had a story highlighting the fact that in China, commercial disputes can often turn into a kidnapping, or in some cases, can result in foreign business people being detained by the police.

The story is an odd mis-mash of old cases, some over 15 years old, added to some recent events. Generally the intent seems to be to give the impression that China is a little bit of a “Wild East”, and that corrupt officials will either interfere to turn a commercial dispute into a criminal matter or will look the other way if criminal activity (kidnapping and ransom of foreign executives) is used as a means of dealing with commercial disputes. Since the stories covered the entirety of a huge country like China, and a long period of time, I am not certain that the article is necessarily a realistic portrait of how things really work. Anecdotes are not evidence, so I remain somewhat unconvinced.

One of the things that the story does highlight, and that is interesting, is that China does not allow dual citizenship. As a result, many former Chinese nationals who have become citizens of Canada, the US, Australia etc., will often hide their new nationality, in order to avoid the hassle of getting a visa. Interestingly, the article also highlights that they also hide their new nationality so as not to appear foreign. The Chinese government therefore refuses to recognize the foreign nationality of such people and not grant consular access. (See my previous rant re the issue of consular access to dual nationals)

Without going into the issue of whether China should still be granting such access (because under their own law, such people are not Chinese nationals therefore not duals) the upshot of these stories from my perspective is that foreign nationals of Chinese extraction doing business in China really should take the time and make the effort to obtain foreign nationality. It does appear that the treatment of foreign nationals who actually do things properly (such as enter the country under a proper visa) do tend to fare somewhat better.

But I think the most important issue is not discussed in the article in all these cases, it was the business persons themselves who were held hostage to resolve the dispute. At least it was not their spouses or children who were being pulled off the street and/or thrown in jail. The foreigners/former Chinese nationals who were doing business in China at least did not have to worry about the safety of their families as well.

As a result, if the personal security situation in China is anywhere near as bad as the article suggests, Chinese entrepreneurs should be seriously considering getting foreign nationality at the first sign of success. At least that way they can get their family out, and only have to worry about their own skins.