In China, people believe becoming rich is glorious, so news that China has the second most number of billionaires was greeted warmly.
With a 115 on Forbes’ latest billionaire list, China is the only country outside the United States with over a hundred of these super rich.
The United States has 413 billionaires on the Forbes list.
Topping China’s rich list is Baidu founder Robin Li, with a fortune estimated at $9.4 billion and legions of supporters from among the country’s 450 million Internet users.
Beijing resident, Han Wenjing says, “China’s rapid economic development must have led to the result that China now has over 100 billionaires. The Baidu CEO, who is also the richest, has been doing very well. Whenever we want to search something, we go to Baidu first.”
Russel Flannery from Forbes says this is partly due to Beijing’s big push to boost domestic consumption and years of economic reform.
He says, “The government is encouraging a lot of consumer spending which is feeding directly into the bottom line at retail companies. A lot of retail success stories on this year’s list. Another big kind of subtle change, I would just say, is that we’re really seeing a culmination of decades of successful economic reform in China. Private sector companies are getting a lot more legal protection, a lot more financial sector support than they ever had before.”
In neighboring Taiwan, the number of billionaires also rose to 25 from 18, thanks in large part to growing economic ties with the mainland that has delivered a huge market to its industries.
Most are old families who control Taiwan’s top firms, but notable newcomers include Cher Wang, the chairwoman of mobile phone maker HTC. And Michael Chiang, whose company TPK makes flat screens for Apple. Both made the list riding the wave of consumer interest in smart phones and gadgets like the iPad.
But with populations of over a billion and 23 million in China and Taiwan respectively, the numbers mask a growing income disparity.
As 39-year-old Beijing resident Huang Gang says, “I think it’s good news. It’s good for our country to have more and more rich people. But I just feel the rich-poor gap is widening, so maybe the government can do something and make the ordinary people richer. That would be a better result.”
Taiwan has taken an early step, slapping a tax on luxury items like real estate investment, private jets and other luxury items.
The move is in part aimed at real estate speculation, which has been blamed for pricing average wage earners out of the housing market in major cities.
Taiwan’s Minister of Finance, Lee Sush-Der says, “Our purpose is simple – to slow down the trade frequency of short-term non-owner occupied houses, and allow the housing market to return to normal. This is our basic objective. The second purpose is that, in the past period of time, a lot of people have been buying expensive consumer products and luxurious services, so we want to use taxation to slow down such activities.”
The taxes are expected to be implemented on July 1.
Bottom line: China tops Forbes’ billionaire list in Asia, but growing income gap may pose a worry ahead.