The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S.
Congress, the president and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices.
The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan ($89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of $11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the Hurun Report, which tracks the country’s wealthy.
That compares to the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government.
Attendees of the National People’s Congress listen to Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, speak during the opening at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Saturday, March 5, 2011. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg
Zong Qinghou, chairman of beverage-maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group and China’s second-richest person, with a family fortune of 68 billion yuan, is a member of China’s National People’s Congress. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg
Auto-parts magnate, Wanxiang Qianchao Co. Ltd. chairman Lu Guanqiu, the third-richest person in China’s National People’s Congress, traveled with Vice President Xi Jinping to the U.S. during his official visit this month, attending a meeting with Vice President Joseph Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in Washington. Photographer: Lucas Schifres/Bloomberg
The income gain by NPC members reflects the imbalances in economic growth in China, where per capita annual income in 2010 was $2,425, less than in Belarus and a fraction of the $37,527 in the U.S.
The disparity points to the challenges that China’s new generation of leaders, to be named this year, faces in countering a rise in social unrest fueled by illegal land grabs and corruption.
“It is extraordinary to see this degree of a marriage of wealth and politics,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Washington’s Brookings Institution. “It certainly lends vivid texture to the widespread complaints in China about an extreme inequality of wealth in the country now.”
The National People’s Congress, whose annual meeting will run for a week and a half, is legally the highest governmental body in China. While the legislature, with about 3,000 members, is often derided as a rubberstamp parliament, its members are some of China’s most powerful politicians and executives, wielding power in their home provinces and weighing in on proposals such as whether to impose a nationwide property tax.
“The NPC is not exactly what you would call a center of power, but being on it certainly gets you deeply engaged in the political system,” Lieberthal said.
Hurun, a Shanghai-based publisher of magazines targeted at the Chinese luxury consumer, uses publicly available information such as corporate filings to compile its annual list of the richest people in China. It then cross-checks that data with the government’s list of NPC members.
Zong Qinghou, chairman of beverage-maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group (HWGZ) and China’s second-richest person, with a family fortune of 68 billion yuan, is a member. So is Wu Yajun, chairwoman of Beijing-based Longfor Properties (LHREZ) Co. She has family wealth of 42 billion yuan, according to the Hurun Report.
Former President Jiang Zemin pushed for the inclusion of wealthy private entrepreneurs into the Communist Party a decade ago. Now they have regular access to top party leaders who are also NPC members.
The third-richest person in the NPC, auto-parts magnate Lu Guanqiu, traveled with Vice President Xi Jinping to the U.S. during his official visit this month, attending a meeting with Vice President Joseph Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in Washington on Feb. 14.
“The rich in China have strong incentive to become ‘within system’ due to the relative weakness in the rule of law and of property rights,” Victor Shih, a professor at Evanston, Illinois-based Northwestern University who studies Chinese politics and finance, wrote in an e-mail. Being a member of the NPC “means that one’s commercial or political rival cannot easily throw one in jail or confiscate one’s property.”
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