The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the president and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices.
The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan ($89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of $11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the Hurun Report, which tracks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government. The richest 2 percent of the NPC - 60 people - had an average wealth of $1.44 billion per person. The richest 2 percent of Congress - 11 members - had an average wealth of $323 million. The wealthiest member of the U.S. Congress is Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who had a maximum wealth of $700.9 million in 2010, according to the center. If he were in China's NPC, he would be ranked 40th.
The National People’s Congress, whose annual meeting will run for a week and a half, is legally the highest governmental body in China. While the legislature, with about 3,000 members, is often derided as a rubberstamp parliament, its members are some of China’s most powerful politicians and executives, wielding power in their home provinces and weighing in on proposals such as whether to impose a nationwide property tax.
“The NPC is not exactly what you would call a center of power, but being on it certainly gets you deeply engaged in the political system,” Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Washington’s Brookings Institution. said.
“The prevalence of billionaires in the NPC shows the cozy relationship between the wealthy and the Communist Party,” said Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “In all levels of the system there seem to be local officials in cahoots with entrepreneurs, enriching themselves, and this has led to a lot of the demonstrations.”
“The rich in China have strong incentive to become ‘within system’ due to the relative weakness in the rule of law and of property rights,” Victor Shih, a professor at Evanston, Illinois-based Northwestern University who studies Chinese politics and finance, wrote in an e-mail. Being a member of the NPC “means that one’s commercial or political rival cannot easily throw one in jail or confiscate one’s property.”
Zong Qinghou, chairman of beverage-maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group (HWGZ) and China’s second-richest person, with a family fortune of 68 billion yuan, is a member. So is Wu Yajun, China’s richest woman, chairwoman of Beijing-based Longfor Properties (LHREZ) Co. She has family wealth of 42 billion yuan, according to the Hurun Report. The third-richest person in the NPC, auto-parts magnate Lu Guanqiu, traveled with Vice President Xi Jinping to the U.S. during his official visit this month
In China, the per capita annual income in 2010 was $2,425, less than in Belarus and a fraction of the $37,527 in the U.S.