China’s property and construction barons took top spots on the latest China Rich List, but now face the issue of sustaining their wealth given the Chinese government’s recent concerted efforts to cool the economy by clamping down on real estate speculation and cutting back on massive infrastructure projects.

Four of the richest 10 were property developers, up from two last year, and 29 of the top 50 had considerable property businesses.

“China’s relentless construction boom, coupled with a growing domestic retail market, have been the key drivers for the growth in wealth,” Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun’s chairman and chief researcher, notes.

The report says China can claim at least 271 billionaires in US dollar terms, up from 189 last year, but “you can double the real number of billionaires in China to nearer 600”, he says.

It’s the 13th annual ranking of the richest individuals in China, since Hurun Report founded the China Rich List in 1999. A full list of the 1000 richest individuals will be released next month.

The highest ranking known link to Australia in the top 1000 entrants is billionaire property and media tycoon Chau Chak Wing, who has been a generous political supporter of Treasurer Wayne Swan and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in recent years. His position in the top 1000 will be known next month.

Chau, who reportedly lives mainly in China but who gives his address as East Kowloon, Hong Kong, is an Australian citizen whose wife and children have lived largely in Hunters Hill in Sydney. The Hunters Hill house cost $3 million in 1995 in the Pulpit Point development.

His fortune estimated by Hurun at $1.5 billion in the 2010 list was made developing real estate in Guangzhou. He also owns a major Guangzhou newspaper, the New Express Daily, as well as an Australian offshoot.

Despite the continuing global financial crisis, the cut-off to make the Huran top 50 issued yesterday was $US2.7 billion, and the  Hurun 1000 cut-off shot up to $US310 million.

The average wealth on the list hit $US924 million. Beijing is the home to 111 on the top 1000 list, followed by Shenzhen and Shanghai.

The rich are also well connected politically, as some 30% of the Hurun top 50 are delegates to the National Party Council or CPPCC.

Up four places to top spot was Liang Wengen, chairman of heavy equipment manufacturer Sany Group, according to report by the Huran Report, a luxury publishing and events firm.  It valued Liang’s fortune at $11 billion, based in significant part on the appreciation of shares of the parent company’s Sany Heavy Industry Co., which is listed in Shanghai.

Liang succeeded the former No.1, Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co. Chairman Zong Qinghou, whose $10.7 billion beverage-industry fortune put him at No.2.

The Robin Li, founder of internet search provider Baidu Inc, rose two spots to finish third, the report says.

Robin Li Yanhong at 43 is the youngest of the Hurun top 10, up to third this year with net worth of US$8.8 billion after Google’s withdrawal from the Chinese market last year has allowed Baidu to build on its leadership in the Chinese-language internet search services.

Wu Yajun, 47, takes over the mantle of the richest woman from Zhang Yin, the Paper Queen, and is also now the richest self-made woman in the world.

“China’s rich have defied the global financial crisis with another record year of growth,” Rupert Hoogewerf concludes.

Chau’s Kingold Real Estate company website says it has been part of the soaring growth of China’s economy in the past 20 years given the great market demands for real estate in China.

“In order to satisfy market demands, the Kingold Real Estate Division has created one legend after another by building high-end hotels, office and residential buildings.

“When China’s real estate market was stagnant in 1989, Guangdong Foreign Businessmen Club/Hotel, invested by the Kingold Real Estate Division, became the first hotel of its kind to offer high-class services to the foreign businessmen in China.

“Despite the real estate market slump in 1995, Dr Chau Chak Wing invested RMB1.6 billion yuan to build a large residential estate — Huiqiao New City with a gross floor area of 1,200,000 square meters, which greatly helped Guangzhou Municipal Government to implement the policies caring for overseas Chinese.

“This residential estate had set several records in the highest sales volume and the highest number of residents actually living in the estate for three consecutive years from 1996 to 1998, becoming the largest overseas Chinese residential area in Guangdong and widely believed to be the first largest upscale precinct in Guangzhou to house more than 100,000 residents to date.

“The Kingold Real Estate Division never falters in its progress with forward-looking vision focused on the Wushan universities precinct in Guangzhou.

“In 1999, the Kingold Real Estate Division impacted on the real estate industry in China when it unprecedentedly budgeted over RMB 10 million yuan to invite international bidding for the Planning and Design of the Favorview Palace Estate covering a land area of over one million square metres.

“Since entering the market, the Favorview Palace Estate has once recorded an annual sales volume of RMB 2.0 billion yuan, the best sales performance among all the deluxe residential estates in Guangzhou.

“The Favorview Palace Estate was the only high-end residential estate in Guangzhou to be honored China’s Top 10 Deluxe Residential Estates for 2004 and subsequently for 2005 and 2006,” the website says.

*This article was first published at Property Observer

Peter Fray

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