China sees growing number of billionaires

BEIJING — Twelve billion dollars. That's what it takes to be named the richest person in China.

A new list of China's top five richest people released Thursday says drinks billionaire Zong Qinghou, the founder of the Hangzhou Wahaha Group, made the jump from 12th place to No. 1 in the annual rankings.

The Hurun Rich List 2010, China's equivalent of the Forbes list, also said the country should now have the world's highest number of billionaires.

The list comes the day after billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates hosted dozens of China's richest at a private dinner in Beijing to talk about giving to charity.

Zong this week expressed some of the skepticism among China's richest about outside pressure to make what he called "donation pledges of rich men's personal wealth." The state-run Xinhua News Agency carried his comments.

Gates and Buffett told a news conference Thursday that they wanted to focus on China because of its emerging wealth.

"China probably now has the largest number of billionaires anywhere in the world," Rupert Hoogewerf, who studies China's wealthy and compiles the Shanghai-based Hurun Rich List, said in a statement.

"We already know of 189 U.S. dollar billionaires in China this year, but you can safely say that we have missed at least half again, meaning that there are between 400 and 500 USD billionaires."

At the release of the Forbes list in March, the magazine said the United States had 403 billionaires, and Asia overall had 234.

With its emerging wealth, China also has a growing income gap. The minimum monthly wage in parts of China is as low as $95. China's top leaders have made boosting farmers' incomes a top political priority as they worry about social unrest.