Many Chinese are becoming wealthier, but one group of them in particular is getting rich quicker than the rest – China’s political leaders. The wealth of the richest members of the upper and lower houses of China’s parliament increased more than four times over the past eight years, outpacing even the country’s richest 1,000 people.
The National People’s Congress began on Wednesday, and will be in session for the next week, and its members include 86 renminbi billionaires ($163.18 million) on the Hurun China Rich List, an annual ranking similar to the Forbes Rich list. The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which opened on Monday, includes 69 billionaires from the Hurun list. According to calculations of the Financial Times, the average wealth of the 56 billionaires who have been in either of those political bodies for more than one five-year term increased 316 percent from 2006 to 2013.
With the downfalls of the politically important in the past two years, like Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, it is becoming increasingly visible how wealth goes hand in hand with political success in China. Online opinion polls show that ordinary citizens believing the most important factor in amassing great wealth is to have powerful political connections.
In fact, the wealth of parliamentary delegates may actually be even greater than the Hurun list suggests, analysts say, as secrecy and tricks like offshore accounts make the true values hard to estimate. While the Communist Party has pledged to force senior officials to disclose their assets, enforcement is lackluster at best.
Compared to the average wealth of the richest 1,000 Chinese on the Hurun list, which is around $6.4 billion, the 155 billionaire delegates at the meetings in Beijing this week are worth on average $9.7 billion, according to the Financial Times. The political delegates are more representative of the top 500 people on the Hurun List, the very wealthiest in China. However, the correlation between political importance and wealth does not translate into causation.
“If they even get the chance to join the CPPCC or NPC, then they must already be successful people,” said Zhao Hui, a popular Chinese columnist. “Once they are already successful this is a way for them to find political protection.”
In sharp contrast, the average annual income of an urban dweller in China was less than $8,500 last year, and some rural farming households earn less than 1,000 yuan a year.