China counts more than 100 billionaires among its top legislators, with 209 of the richest holding wealth nearly equivalent to Belgium’s annual GDP, according to a report released as the Communist Party’s annual parliamentary session started Friday.
A key focus of the sessions is eliminating poverty and creating a “moderately prosperous society,” a project President Xi Jinping has frequently cited as a national priority in a country that suffers from a gaping chasm between the rich and poor.
The annual session of the country’s top political bodies started Friday with a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a group that is part of the Communist Party controlled government structure.
The opening of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp legislature, will be held on Sunday, with the country’s economic elite and top leaders rubbing shoulders for some two weeks in the imposing corridors of the Great Hall of the People, situated off Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Out of the more than 5,100 delegates to these two assemblies, 209 possess individual wealth of more than 2 billion yuan (US$290 million), Shanghai-based luxury magazine publisher the Hurun Report said in a survey.
More than 100 of the wealthy individuals are members of the NPC, and 97 are from the CPPCC.
According to the survey, their cumulative assets tallied “almost 3.5 trillion yuan” (US$507 billion) – nearly equivalent to the annual GDP of countries such as Belgium, Sweden or Poland.
The majority of the wealthy delegates were businessmen, rather than politicians who had spent their careers within the party apparatus.
Among them are the heads of internet giants, such as Pony Ma of Tencent and Robin Li of Baidu, smartphone maker Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun, and Zong Qinghou, head of soft drink producer Wahaha.
Despite a large-scale anti-corruption campaign launched in 2013 by President Xi to clean up the Communist Party’s ranks, the heads of private businesses remain welcome in the cavernous halls of power as Beijing seeks to rebalance its economy towards domestic consumption and the services sector.
Nevertheless, some wealthy entrepreneurs could be tempted to keep a low profile this year as the Communist Party ups its attacks on real estate “speculators” and “financial crocodiles.”
While Xi has pledged to lift more than 45 million people out of poverty by 2020, his time in office has already been exceptionally good for the country’s wealthiest politicians.
While the economy as a whole has expanded at a rate of under seven percent in recent years, the legislature’s 100 or so dollar billionaires have seen their cumulative wealth jump 64% since 2013 when he assumed the presidency, Hurun said.