As the yearly sessions of China’s top legislative and advisory bodies open in Beijing, a new report says that their richest members have acquired wealth similar to the annual GDP of Poland or Sweden, highlighting the ever-closer links between business and the leadership.
The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a consultative assembly that serves as a loose equivalent of an upper chamber of parliament began its meetings on Friday, and the National People’s Congress (NPC), the legislative assembly will do the same on Sunday, for a fortnight-long event known as the “Two Sessions” in China’s political calendar.
Together, the two assemblies number 5,129 delegates, with about 3,000 in the NPC – the world’s most populated legislative chamber.
According to Shanghai-based Hurun Report, at least 209 of those delegates have a net worth of more than 2 billion yuan ($290.7 million). Over 100 of them are dollar billionaires, with Li Tzar Kuoi, a Hong Kong magnate, worth over $25 billion on his own.
The ultra-wealthy group, which doesn’t include other numerous millionaires, and those whose wealth is not subject to public record, have assets valued at $507 billion. According to the World Bank, Poland, which has 38.5 million inhabitants had GDP last year of $467 billion.
More significantly, the top 100 are worth 64 percent more than in 2013, suggesting an annual growth rate of around 13 percent, compared to 7.2 percent for the same period for the economy as a whole. This shows both, that
wealthier Chinese are going into politics, and that, as elsewhere in the world, the very richest are creaming off the greatest benefit of the country’s rapid, but slowing economic expansion.
The mix of money and power appears to be a stark betrayal of Marxist ideals that are still formally espoused by the party, but there are arguments, both theoretical and practical to justify the participation of tycoons in politics, with benefits for the Party and the individuals.
Both, the NPC and the CPPCC are not parliaments in a traditional sense. Most of the key legislative decisions in China are made by President Xi Jinping and other members of the Politburo, who are in constant communication with ministries and local leaders.
With real power elsewhere, the role of the NPC, which is home to over 110 of the rich members on the list, is mostly to rubberstamp legislation, with the chamber voting almost unanimously on most issues, and always in accordance with the will of the Communist Party. But with widespread media coverage, it is also a platform for a wider cross-section of society than just the party leadership, allowing them to air grievances, and put forward ideas.
“Having these stakeholders as advisers to the government I can understand makes a lot of sense,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, publisher of the report.
The same is even more true of the CPPCC, which has no formal role, and is deliberately made up mostly of non-traditional party representatives, including 97 on the rich list.
As well as opportunity to strike deals in the corridors of power, membership is also an exchange of loyalty for influence.
“By giving the extremely wealthy a position in parliament that kind of helps ensure their loyalty and it gives them a vested interest in the success of the party,”
Rory Truex, an assistant professor at Princeton, told Reuters.
“It affords [the tycoons] a certain degree of political protection,” believes Victor Shih, from University of California San Diego.
China has managed to lift over 800 million people out of absolute poverty since the start of its capitalist reforms in the early 1980s, and the percentage of people living in such conditions has dramatically dropped from nearly 90 in 1981 to less than 4 today.
Still, the intermixing of elites is likely to grate with at least some Chinese, and party officials have duly attacked “speculators,””financial crocodiles,” and other “parasitic capitalists” ahead of the “Two Sessions” in Beijing, as well as promising more anti-corruption drives both among officials, and private individuals.