Google’s much publicised departure from the mainland Chinese market did its business no favours but it has helped make Robin Li, the man behind China’s top domestic search engine Baidu, the richest man in that region.
Mr Li was propelled to pole position among 115 Chinese mainland billionaires, with a personal fortune of Â£5.64bn. Wealthy Chinese have become the world’s second largest group of tycoons after the United States following five years of massive expansion, according to the first annual list of Chinese billionaires for 2011 released by Forbes magazine.
“A circle of wealthy Chinese people is taking shape. Wherever the billionaires are residing, their businesses are getting more and more related with the opening up and fast growing market on China’s mainland,” Zhou Jiangong, chief editor of Forbes China, told the People’s Daily. “The market and clients they serve are mainly Chinese too.”
There is a certain irony in seeing capitalism in its purest form being celebrated in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the world’s largest and most powerful Communist Party. But socialism with Chinese characteristics, as the country’s dominant ideology is called, has given a framework for the likes of Mr Li to thrive.
Mr Li, 42, typifies the new breed of young, confident entrepreneur emerging in the technology industry. He founded Baidu in 1999 after working in for several search engine companies, including the sector’s pioneer, Infoseek, and The Wall Street Journal.
Taking his basic degree at Peking University, he did his masters in the United States and while he has gained from Google’s departure, Baidu has long been the top search engine in China.
The richest Chinese man in the world is not mainland-based however â€“ that honour belongs to Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, with a fortune of Â£15.6bn. Other Hong Kong based tycoons were in second and third place â€“ the Malaysian Chinese palm oil and property magnates, Thomas & Raymond Kwok & family, with Â£12bn and Lee Shau Kee with Â£11.4bn.
“The development of residential projects, hotels, commercial properties and the quick urbanisation on China’s mainland has provided a unprecedented feast of fortune,” said Mr Zhou.
Of 213 ethnic Chinese billionaires worldwide, 35 are Hong Kong residents, 27 are from south-east Asia, 25 are from Taiwan, while seven live in the United States. Meanwhile, all the billionaires in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia are of Chinese origin, the report said.
The mainland is rising fast â€“ Robin Li overtook Zong Qinghou, chairman of food and beverage giant Wahaha Group, to become mainland China’s richest man.
The group of 213 have an aggregated wealth of Â£324bn and make up nearly 13 per cent of the world billionaires’ total fortunes. Nearly 30 per cent of China’s tycoons are mainly involved in the property business, while other lucrative sectors include financial services and manufacturing.
Mr Li is also likely to feature at the top of next year’s ranking after earlier this week presenting an optimistic outlook for Baidu, saying the group has, “plenty of room” to expand.
“Search just became the most popular application for Chinese internet users and there is still a lot of growth to expect for many years down the road,” Mr Li said on Tuesday after Baidu reported that its first-quarter profit more than doubled and forecast sales this quarter that beat analysts’ estimates.