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'Communist' China now has more billionaires than the US


Chinese property magnate Wang Jianlin has defended his crown as the country's richest man, according to the annual Hurun rich list, fending off Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma and new players on the block like Baoneng's Yao Zhenhua.

Wang, the chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, took the top spot with a personal fortune of $32.1bn, the report said, despite Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, seeing his wealth surge 41pc from 2015.

The annual rich list of China's movers and shakers gives a temperature check on where money is flowing in China, and underlines the growing financial muscle of the country's super-rich - a trend that has been fuelling a boom in global deals.

Yao Zhenhua, the chairman of Baoneng Group and the biggest riser since 2015, saw his wealth shoot up 820pc to $17.2bn, elevating him to fourth in the overall list.

Yao has been at the centre of a hostile takeover battle for China's largest real estate developer China Vanke. Hurun founder Rupert Hoogewerf said Yao represented a new wave of wealthy Chinese, those whose money came from playing the financial markets as opposed to more traditional routes like trade or manufacturing.

"There's a new type of wealth creation coming out," he told Reuters, adding China was having to adapt as the wider economy was "very materially slowing down".

"Today it is about using the capital markets for financial investment," he said.

Baoneng, a financial conglomerate that had been a relative unknown, rose to prominence over the last year by becoming the largest shareholder in Vanke, though drew criticism from Vanke's own chairman over where it was getting its funds.

The report said there were now 594 dollar billionaires in China, putting it ahead of the United States' 535. However, none of China's super-rich make it into the global top 20.

Other risers included online gaming tycoon Ding Lei of Netease, appliance maker Midea Group's He Xiangjian and property magnate Xu Jiayin of Evergrande. However, smartphone maker Xiaomi saw founder Lei Jun fall out of the top 10 as competition in China's smartphone market rose.

The Hurun Report is the most accurate and long-standing indicator of Chinese wealth. The latest edition is the 18th annual ranking of the richest individuals in China. Wealth calculations are a snapshot of August 15 last.

Top ranked Wang Jianlin has been in the headlines recently as a the property tycoon turns entertainment mogul.

He's called his push into movies accidental, in a recent interview.

"We didn't have a choice, we were forced into it," Wang, whose Dalian Wanda Group controls Hollywood studio Legendary Pictures and US cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings, told Reuters. In 2006, Dalian Wanda Group was looking for a partner to operate cinemas at the massive malls it was building around China. Wang first turned to Time Warner, but the US media giant was forced to quit China because of foreign ownership restrictions. Shanghai Media Group, a state-owned conglomerate, abandoned a separate deal.

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Today, Wanda is not only the world's biggest commercial property developer, with 149 signature Wanda Plazas in China, but also the largest cinema operator, controlling more than 13,000 screens on four continents once current deals are closed. (Reuters)

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