Shanghai | Jack Ma has reclaimed the title of China’s richest man following an explosion in the value of his digital payments empire but the number of US dollar billionaires in the world’s second-largest economy fell for the first time as the value of their listed companies on global stockmarkets slipped.
Mr Ma, the Alibaba founder who announced his retirement last month, pipped Xu Jiayin – the Chinese property mogul who was forced to sell his Sydney harbourside mansion after flouting foreign investment rules – for the top spot with a personal fortune of $US39 billion ($54.8 billion).
Mr Xu, the chairman of developer China Evergrande, slipped to second place after his wealth declined 14 per cent to $US36 billion. He was followed by Pony Ma, the founder of technology giant Tencent, whose wealth slipped 4 per cent to $US35 billion, according to China’s latest Hurun “rich list”.
China’s richest woman, Elizabeth Yang, of property developer Country Garden which has extensive interests in Australia, was in fourth place with a fortune of $US22 billion, a 6 per cent fall on last year.
The wealth of China’s rich fell for the first time since 2012, according to the Hurun China Rich list 2018, released Wednesday. The number of people qualifying for the list, which requires a fortune of 2 billion yuan ($406 million) or more, fell 11 per cent to 1893 individuals.
“A 20 per cent drop in the stock exchange, on the back of a slowing economy and the US-China trade war, resulted in 456 drop-offs this year, the highest since records began twenty-years agom,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, Huran Report chairman and founder.
The number of billionaires, measured is US dollars, fell by 27 to 620. However, that is still double the number from five years ago and a six-fold increase from a decade ago.
China did not have any billionaires 20 years ago.
The personal wealth of Chinese-Australian businessman Chau Chak Wing, one of Australia’s biggest political donors, rose 8 per cent to $US3.1 billion, which ranked him at number 146, slipping two places from last year.
Mr Chau, who is referred to on the list by his Mandarin name Zhou Zerong, chairs Guangzhou-headquartered Kingold.
Mr Chau filed defamation proceedings against Fairfax Media last year following an investigation into his political donations in Australia.
Other wealthy Chinese with links to Australia on the list included Wang Yusuo, whose gas company ENN owns a stake in Santos.
He rose to number 30 on the list with a 15 per cent increase in his wealth to $US9 billion.
New Hope chairman, Liu Yonghao, saw his wealth slip 11 per cent to $US5.5 billion.
Port of Darwin-owner Ye Cheng saw an explosion in his wealth, up 79 per cent to $US1.75 billion. He leapt 321 places on the list.
Jiang Weiping, of Tianqi Lithium, which has interests in Australia, fell by 83 spots to 174 place on the list.
Song Zuowen, whose family company Nanshan owns a stake in Virgin Australia, slipped 14 places to 95 on the list but his wealth remained steady at $US4.3 billion.
Politicians hit 20-year low
In a reflection of Xi Jingping’s crackdown on government corruption, the number of political appointments on the list fell to a 20-year low. Only 7.5 per cent of the rich listers are member of China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress.
Twelve of the people on this year’s list are in trouble with the authorities with nine under investigation, one in prison, one awaiting sentencing and one under house.
One of the prominent new faces was Colin Huang, who runs e-commerce giant Pinduoduo. He debuted 13th on the list with a fortune of US$14 billion.
Smartphone tycoon Lei Jun of MI also broke into the top ten after his wealth jumped 62 per cent of US$16 billion.
The list found blockchain was the fastest growing industry with 14 new faces.
Wealthy women in China now make up 28.7 per cent of the list.
It said 618 of the world’s billionaires are now from mainland China followed by 74 from Hong Kong and 42 from Taiwan. Australia ranked equal tenth with the United Kingdom with one billionaire.
The Hurun Report, established in 1999, is China’s most prominent “rich list” which ranks the wealth of the country’s billionaires.