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Wahaha, Baidu bosses top Forbes China rich list

SHANGHAI, Oct 28 – Beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou and the co-founder of Internet search engine Baidu, Robin Li, are the two richest men in China, according to a new list released by Forbes magazine on Thursday.

Zong, the 65-year-old founder of China\’s largest soft drinks maker Wahaha, saw his fortune rise to eight billion dollars, moving him to the top of the list from number three last year, the magazine said.

The annual list tracks mainland China\’s phenomenal explosion of wealth and the ups and downs of an economic landscape in which consumer goods makers and technology companies have risen over the past year as property developers fell.

"The number of billionaires on the list has ballooned to 128, from 79 last year," Forbes\’ Shanghai bureau chief Russell Flannery said. "Only the US has more — 400 on our latest US Rich List — but China is closing the gap."

Zong\’s rise comes a year after the end of a long feud that pitted Wahaha against French food giant Danone, which accused him of setting up a production and distribution network in parallel to their joint venture. Danone ended up selling its 51 percent stake in the joint ventures.

Li, 44, saw his estimated fortune more than double to 7.2 billion dollars in the past year, propelling him to second place from 14th as Baidu\’s stock rose while Google shut down its mainland search engine in a censorship row with Beijing.

China\’s third-richest person is Liang Wengen, the 53-year-old co-founder of heavy equipment maker Sany Group, whose net worth is estimated at 5.9 billion dollars.

Last year\’s number one, Wang Chuanfu, 44, founder of automaker BYD, dropped to 10th with his estimated worth cut to 4.25 billion, as his company — 10 percent-owned by Warren Buffett\’s Berkshire Hathaway — faced production delays and distribution setbacks.

More people in the rich list this year come from the retail and pharmaceutical sectors as domestic consumption rises and investment in social welfare climbs in the world\’s second-largest economy.

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Zhang Jindong, founder of electronics retailer Suning Appliance, is in fourth position with 5.7 billion dollars.

Pharmaceutical company Hepalink\’s founder Li Li and his wife were fifth at 5.4 billion dollars after their firm listed on the domestic stock exchange in May, raising 8.9 billion dollars.

Real estate magnates took a hit as the government tried to cool soaring property prices, Forbes said.

This year\’s top ten contained only one property developer, compared with three last year. The magazine said it expected to see more tycoons from food and beverage, chain restaurants and luxury hotels on the list in future.

While China\’s wealthiest are still some way off matching the likes of Bill Gates or other global super-rich, the list suggests China\’s wealthiest are getting richer, with the minimum amount needed to make the top 400 rising to 425 million dollars from 300 million last year, the magazine said.

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