Where is financier Xiao Jianhua?by John Keenan / February 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
If you were going to pick a poster boy for the concerns over the autonomy of Hong Kong, billionaire businessman Xiao Jianhua would not be a leading candidate. But, as Amnesty International researcher William Nee says, “Quite simply, human rights pertains to everybody.” In late January, financier Xiao disappeared from his luxury apartment at the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong and has not been seen since.
Shortly after, reports appeared in the international press that Xiao had been abducted by Chinese agents and taken to a secret location on the mainland. These accounts read like spy fiction, detailing that Xiao had been spirited away in a wheelchair while his all-female team of bodyguards looked on. Hong Kong police say they are looking into Xiao’s whereabouts even though his wife has asked them to drop the case. Nee told me that Xiao’s family members in China may have been pressured by the authorities not to speak publicly.
For human rights activists, Xiao’s uncertain fate echoes that of five Causeway Bay booksellers who were selling politically sensitive material. Their disappearance in 2015 sparked a scandal in Hong Kong and fears that the mainland authorities were eroding freedoms guaranteed by the British government after the 1997 handover. One of them later reappeared and claimed to have been abducted by the Chinese security forces, detained for eight months and forced make false confessions.
Xiao, 45, is immensely wealthy and enjoys close links to the Chinese elite. He says he amassed his fortune by following the example of Warren Buffett. In 2013, he made headlines in the financial press when he was named as the moneyman behind the $9.4bn deal that saw HSBC offload a slice of its Ping Ang insurance group to a Thai-Chinese conglomerate. That year, the sister and brother-in-law of Chinese president Xi Jinping called on Xiao’s expertise when they sold shares following a Bloomberg investigation of the family finances.
By making himself useful to powerful political families Xiao, who holds a Canadian passport, no doubt hoped to become indispensable. But last week the New York Times has reported that some employees of his company, the Tomorrow Group, are barred from leaving the mainland. The head of a state-backed newspaper is under investigation for his links to Xiao. Xie Zhenjiang has been removed from his post as the president of Beijing-based Securities Daily and expelled from the Communist Party. Beijing is understood to be widening its net in an obsession with stability in the lead-up to the Communist Party’s quinquennial conclave this autumn.
Back in Hong Kong, activists recognise that Beijing will override any niceties about the “one country, two systems” approach agreed with the British 20 years ago. William Nee said: “We need to know where Xiao Jianhua is being held and what criminal measures are being used. When there is not sufficient pressure, the Chinese government feels it can get away with it.”