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Fan Bao, founder, Chairman and CEO of China Renaissance Group, is one of the country’s most famed rainmakers.BOBBY YIP/Reuters

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston is a senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa and a former senior official in Canada’s Department of Finance.

Amid China’s post-COVID economic revival, foreign and domestic companies alike have hoped for brighter prospects as China opens up. But now all hopes for better days are in jeopardy due to the resurgence of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign and the disappearance of top executives.

Finance and tech executives in China were surprised and alarmed when Bao Fan, founder, chairman and chief executive of China Renaissance Bank, went missing on Feb. 14. The bank is the lender of first choice to many of the top tech companies in the country, so Mr. Bao has personal and corporate information on many important tech and financial executives in China, as well as such companies in other countries.

Targeting Mr. Bao could well be the first step in a more ambitious, wider crackdown on other business executives. Regardless of whether that actually happens, Mr. Bao’s disappearance is a sign that, despite China’s markets coming out of the COVID slump, foreign investors are right to remain wary about putting their money there.

On the news of Mr. Bao’s disappearance, Renaissance Bank’s stocks plummeted. The company later said Mr. Bao was “co-operating in an investigation.”

With great power comes great risk, and Mr. Bao would be very much aware of the case of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who disappeared for months after publicly criticizing Chinese regulation of the tech sector. Indeed, in Mr. Bao’s case, before his disappearance he had been making plans to transfer some of his wealth to Singapore, out of Chinese control.

For Mr. Ma, he subsequently reduced his interests in the company and retired from business activities. Stepping down from his company is a fate that may also await Mr. Bao.

Eight other senior Chinese executives in property and finance have disappeared in recent years, with only one resuming their duties. Some were given long prison sentences, including Canadian-Hong Kong billionaire Xiao Jianhua, detained in 2017, who just last year got a 13-year sentence plus a $10.5-billion fine for his company, Tomorrow Holdings. Chinese regulators and state-owned enterprises often take over all or part of the company assets.

While these billionaires may have been euphemistically “co-operating in an investigation,” in many instances, it was actually their own cases that were being investigated, with efforts made to elicit admission of culpability. The wealthy businesspeople may also be questioned about the many other executives of whom they have knowledge. It is not known if they are forced to sit in a metal “tiger chair” with wrists and ankles in vises to facilitate their confessions. Certainly that is the fate of ordinary Chinese and often foreigners.

Chinese-born Australian television business reporter and CGTN anchor Cheng Lei remains in custody after being detained in 2020, and as the Amanda Lang of China, she would have had innumerable business contacts on which Chinese authorities would have wanted information. I was told by a Chinese executive in Shanghai, just days after businessman Michael Spavor and diplomat-on-leave Michael Kovrig were taken hostage, that China has a list of 100 Canadians they can pick up and interrogate at any time; the pattern is that they target those with networks about which authorities would like to learn more. Ms. Cheng must have been at the top of Australia’s list of potential detainees when that government called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

All of this is in the context of the government’s continuing meddling in the financial and tech sectors. On Jan. 31, as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Mr. Xi made a speech to the party’s Central Committee in which he said China must comprehensively deepen market-oriented reforms, focus on investment demand with reasonable returns, and realize the strategy of innovation-driven development. But this is being overshadowed by a doubling down on “corruption,” and that word takes on many dimensions in a Chinese context.

According to Bill Bishop on the online site Sinocism, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is focusing now on financial-sector corruption, specifically to “eliminate erroneous ideas such as ‘financial elitism,’ ‘money worship,’ and ‘Westernization,’ and rectify the indulgent and extravagant trend of pursuing a refined and high-end lifestyle.” For top bankers and industry executives, these concepts can capture a lot in their work environment and create hooks for criminal charges, even if the government is more concerned with political reasons for the detention.

We can expect to see more financial-sector executives “co-operating in an investigation,” especially if the interrogation of Mr. Bao implicates others. It is evident that stability is still not a feature of the Chinese business environment.