China billionaires overtake US: survey

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, gestures as he speaks ahead of a signing ceremony in Beijing in this January.
Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, gestures as he speaks ahead of a signing ceremony in Beijing in this January.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (AFP) - The number of billionaires in China has overtaken that of the United States for the first time, an annual survey said Thursday, despite slowing growth in the world's second-largest economy.

Communist-ruled China now has 596 billionaires, up a "staggering" 242 over the last year, Shanghai-based luxury magazine publisher Hurun Report said, surpassing the 537 Americans.

"Despite the slowdown in the economy, China's richest have defied gravity, recording their best year ever," Hurun Report Chairman Rupert Hoogewerf said in a statement.

Real estate and entertainment magnate Wang Jianlin dethroned founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Jack Ma as the country's richest person, Hurun's annual wealth ranking showed.

Mr Wang, who founded conglomerate Wanda, saw his fortune jump more than 50 per cent to US$34.4 billion (S$47.7 billion), helped by a surge in the stock price of a listed unit.

Nr Wang is known outside China for a string of overseas acquisitions including the organiser of Ironman extreme endurance contests, Swiss sports marketing group Infront, and a stake in Spanish football club Atletico Madrid.

He burst into the spotlight in 2012 by buying US cinema chain AMC Entertainment for US$2.6 billion.

Mr Wang took the top spot back from Mr Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba, because of a collapse in the Internet company's New York-quoted shares, which were the world's biggest initial public offering when it listed last year. Mr Ma's wealth still stands at $22.7 billion.

Beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou of Wahaha remained in third place with just over $21 billion while Pony Ma, founder of Internet giant Tencent which operates popular messaging app WeChat, took fourth place with a little under $19 billion.

Lei Jun of smartphone maker Xiaomi, which is seeking to challenge Apple, jumped five places to fifth by doubling his wealth to more $14 billion.

Yan Hao of road builder China Pacific Construction was sixth while the founder of search engine giant Baidu, Robin Li, dropped to seventh amid worries over his company's huge spending to expand its business.