Page last updated at 08:04 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Number of Chinese billionaires 'second only to US'

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

File image of worker using shovel at Shanghai building site
China's leaders say they are worried by the growing rich-poor gap

China now has more billionaires than any other country besides the United States, according to Forbes magazine.

There are a total of 64 people in that bracket in mainland China, the magazine says in its annual list of the world's richest people.

The figure is perhaps not surprising considering that China's economy has seen rapid growth over recent years.

China is set to overtake Japan as the world's second-biggest economy sometime this year.

According to Forbes, the world now has 1,011 billionaires.

The country with the biggest concentration is the US, with 403. But China comes second with 64 living in the mainland.

That figure jumps to 89 if Hong Kong is included. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997, but largely governs its own affairs.

On Forbes' list of billionaires there are a total of 97 new additions - and 27 of those are from mainland China.

They include people such as Li Shufu, who is chairman of Geely, a car-maker that is currently poised to buy Sweden's Volvo.

The richest man in China, Zong Qinghou, runs a multi-billion-dollar firm, the Wahaha Group, that makes soft drinks.

In an interview with Forbes, he hinted at why his firm has become so successful.

"We're not afraid of competition. To meet competition, however, you have to continuously innovate," he said.

Wealth gap

China's increasing prominence on this rich list reflects its growing economic muscle, confirmed on Wednesday with a report that exports rose in February by nearly 50% compared to a year earlier.

But the news that there are now more billionaires in China might not be welcomed by everyone in the country.

Many people, including some officials, say that the gap between rich and poor is already too large.

Just a few days ago in a speech at the start of China's on-going parliamentary session, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the government must reverse the widening income gap.

"We will not only make the 'pie' of social wealth bigger by developing the economy, but also distribute it well," he said.

Mr Wen added: "[We will] make our society fairer and more harmonious."

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