China Power

Getting Rich in Shenzhen

Forbes magazine’s latest list of the richest people in China shows Shenzhen is the place for billionaires.

As I mentioned ahead of the Communist Party Central Committee plenary session earlier this month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made a much talked about speech in August in the booming southern city of Shenzhen in which he suggested that China’s economic reforms would fail without political reforms.

The remarks set off a flurry of speculation about a struggle between reformers led by Wen and more conservative elements in the leadership, and since then (even more than usual) every opinion piece that appears in the People’s Daily has been pored over by China watchers looking for clues on where exactly the leadership stands.

According to Beijing-based analyst Russell Leigh Moses, the response has been clear. He says that those intent on ‘deflecting discussion’ of reform were the clear winners at the plenary session, and he notes the vehement attacks that have followed on reformist elements of the party in the People’s Daily.

So, will Wen back down? Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Moses says: ‘The big question now is how badly Wen Jiabao and the people whose platform he is sponsoring have been wounded. Wen himself made no mention of political reform on a recent inspection trip to Wuhan, perhaps chastened by the absence of support in the leadership. Wen could well be backing away.’

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On a somewhat separate issue, and setting aside the question of reform talk swirling around Shenzhen, there is, according to Forbes, an abundance of something else there—money.

According to Forbes Asia, which today released its annual list of China’s 400 richest people, the city has the most billionaires in the country—17, compared with 15 in Beijing and Shanghai with 10.

Interestingly, Forbes notes that 10 percent of those on the list ‘get all or part of their fortune from the healthcare sector.’

According to the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Zhou Jiangong, economic restructuring will put more people on the list from the pharmaceutical sector and fewer from real estate.

And he added: ‘China's sustained economic growth and the appreciation of the renminbi will produce an even bigger number of billionaires at a stunning speed in the coming years…Thanks to domestic consumer spending, there will be more tycoons from the food and beverage industry, chain restaurants and luxury hotels. Their presence on the rich list is still quite small now, compared to their US counterparts.’