China’s super rich got USD1.5T richer during pandemic

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s super wealthy have earned a record USD1.5 trillion this year, more than the past five years combined, as e-commerce and gaming boomed during pandemic lockdowns, an annual rich list said yesterday.

An extra 257 people also joined the billionaires club in the world’s number-two economy by August, following two years of shrinking membership, according to the closely watched Hurun Report.

The country now has 878 billionaires. The United States (US) had 626 people in the top bracket at the start of the year, according to Hurun in its February global list.

The report found that there were around 2,000 individuals with a net worth of over CNY2 billion (USD300 million) in August, giving them a combined net worth of USD4 trillion.

E-commerce titan Alibaba founder Jack Ma once again topped the list after his wealth surged a whopping 45 per cent to USD58.8 billion as online shopping firms saw a surge in business owing to people being shut indoors for months during strict lockdowns to contain the virus.

He was followed by Pony Ma (USD57.4 billion), boss of gaming giant and WeChat owner Tencent who made an extra 50 per cent despite concerns about his firm’s US outlook after it was threatened with bans there over national security fears.

Alibaba group Chairman Jack Ma. PHOTO: AFP

First-time list member Zhong Shanshan, 66, best-known for his bottled water brand Nongfu, parachuted into third spot with USD53.7 billion after a Hong Kong IPO in September, the report found.

“The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year,” Hurun Report chief researcher Rupert Hoogewerf said in a statement.

This year’s list shows China was “moving away from traditional sectors like manufacturing and real estate, towards the new economy”, he added.

Food delivery app Meituan founder Wang Xing quadrupled his wealth and jumped 52 places to 13th in the list with USD25 billion, while online shopping platform JD.com founder Richard Liu doubled his money pile to USD23.5 billion.

Healthcare entrepreneurs also moved up the list on the back of the pandemic, with vaccine-maker Zhifei founder Jiang Rensheng tripling his value to USD19.9 billion.

China shut down major cities around the country in late January and February to contain the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, causing an unprecedented economic contraction in the first quarter.

With infections appearing to be under control, the country is on track to become the only major economy to expand this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Monday, data showed the economy expanded 4.9 per cent in the third quarter but away from the glittering figures many ordinary workers and fresh graduates are struggling to
find jobs.

The urban jobless rate inched down to 5.4 per cent in September, although analysts have warned of higher unemployment than officially reported this year.