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nathan vanderklippe

When Ottawa cancelled a 28-year-old "immigrant investor" program this week, its target was clear: China. Of a backlog of 65,000 applicants, more than three-quarters were Chinese, all millionaires vying for a chance to get into Canada by lending Ottawa $800,000 in exchange for visas and a shot at citizenship. The money was returned, too, five years later – although without interest.

The program offered a way for the wealthy to effectively buy their way in to Canada, and it proved remarkably popular in Asia. In the last year before it was suspended in 2012, fully 86 per cent of those applying came from Mainland China, according to numbers compiled by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. British Columbia was by far the most popular destination.

So you might think the program's demise in this week's federal budget would be greeted with some mourning in China. In fact, it's been exactly the opposite. Judging by the reaction on social media it was cause for celebration: By stopping the program, online writers are saying, Canada has struck a blow against corrupt Chinese.

"Now there's one less avenue for escape to corrupt Chinese officials!" said yushengai, a user of Sina Weibo, the Chinese social media equivalent to Facebook and Twitter.

This is "horrible news for corrupt officials" offered another user named sengbanjian-xiaomuma.

A third, nick9550, called the program's abolishment "great." He added: "Before it is resumed, hopefully more [corrupt people] will have been arrested in China."

Even those who earned their money legitimately have been met with skepticism among other Chinese.

"Why do people who earn enough money from the Mainland every every means possible to move themselves and their property to other countries, instead of repaying the land and the countrymen who fostered and educated them?" said Weibo user tengwu-wangze.

The comments also revealed a sullied view of Canada that has long worried diplomatic officials in China.

Canadians might still like to think of themselves as global do-gooders. But the immigrant citizenship program revealed a very different view from abroad. In China, Canada has gained a reputation as paradise for the corrupt. Many Chinese saw the immigrant investor program essentially as a way for some to leverage ill-gotten gains to enter a country with better education, better health care and better quality of life.

Canada is not alone in earning derision for providing haven to those with questionable wealth. If Canada is seen by some Chinese as paradise for the corrupt, the U.S. is seen as a wonderland for bureaucrats who have skimmed personal profit. Australia, too, has become a destination for those wealthy enough to pay for entry.

And ending the immigrant program does not close all roads to Canada for the wealthy. The "Canadian Experience Class" program introduced in 2008 provides preferential access to residency to foreign students, offering a back-handed way in for those able to pay for their children to study in Canada. It has been the fastest-growing Canadian immigration program.

Chinese interest in finding ways to places like Canada is also unlikely to wane. The past few years have seen growing movement of wealth out of China by those nervous about holding on to what they have amassed.

China's big cities "have been drained of huge amounts of money because [entrepreneurs] don't feel safe," said Zhu Dake, director of the Cultural Criticism Institute at Shanghai Tongji University. "Immigration is the only way for them to keep their property and wealth safe. Under the current incomplete Chinese judicial, economic and police systems, the future of private enterprise here is hard to predict."

However, he criticized some of the country's emigrants for their conduct abroad.

"They fall short in basic knowledge of their target country, and are often not able to foster a sense of belonging or participation," he said. "It's a kind of escape for reasons of personal safety, but it doesn't mean they are really ready to take on the responsibilities of their new countries. This is the biggest problem for many Chinese immigrants."