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China’s billionaires pay the price for Xi Jinping’s Covid crackdown

China’s population of super-rich fell more than 14 per cent last year as President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy, regulatory crackdowns and a property collapse took their toll on the nation’s large fortunes.

The number of billionaires in China fell by 164 to 969 compared with a decline of 25 to 691 in the US, according to the 2023 M3M Hurun Global Rich List after depreciating currencies and falling stocks battered the wealthy across the globe.

“This past year has been tumultuous for wealth creation,” the report said. While China was still the “world capital for billionaires”, the total wealth of the country’s richest plunged 15 per cent.

China’s economy grew only 3 per cent last year as Xi sealed borders and locked cities down in an ultimately futile attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay.

The Shenzhen stock market in southern China ended the year down 17 per cent and the renminbi depreciated 6 per cent against the dollar.

Some old faces, such as internet entrepreneur Jack Ma, who three years ago was China’s richest man, toppled further down the rankings, barely scraping into the top 10 of the country’s most wealthy.

Ma has spent much of the past year in Japan after he and other ecommerce magnates were targeted by regulators as Beijing sought to tighten its control over data and the financial system.

Real estate tycoons also suffered dramatic losses following a government campaign to reduce leverage in the sector that sparked a meltdown in property prices.

Many of the country’s wealthy have started moving money to havens such as Singapore after Xi began pursuing a “common prosperity” policy aimed at reducing social inequality.

But even with the fall in the number of the super-wealthy in China, the country remained the world’s “absolute No. 1” for billionaires, the report said, led by the capital Beijing, where Xi and many other Communist party leaders reside.

Beijing had the most billionaires of any city in the world — 109, compared with 105 in New York and 103 in Shanghai. London was ranked fifth behind the southern Chinese tech capital of Shenzhen.

Asia, with 57 per cent of the world’s population, accounted for 49 per cent of the world’s billionaires and 39 per cent of its wealth while North America and Europe combined had 15 per cent of the world’s population, 46 per cent of its billionaires and 57 per cent of its total wealth.

India had the third-highest number of billionaires at 187 while Germany overtook the UK for fourth place with 144, compared with 134. Russia’s total number of billionaires declined by two to 70, leaving it in eighth despite western sanctions imposed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite China’s vast number of billionaires, none of them ranked in the report’s top 10 global rich list, which was led by Bernard Arnault of LVMH with $202bn followed by Elon Musk with $157bn. The only Asian billionaire in the top 10 was Mukesh Ambani, the Indian oil, petrochemicals, telecoms and retail magnate, with $82bn.

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