China’s richest man says work key to easing poverty

Extracted from
Posted: 07 March 2011 0159 hrs

BEIJING: China’s richest man on Sunday rejected criticism that the rich have done little to help the country’s millions of poor and said hard work was the key to lifting themselves out of poverty.

China has struggled to spread its wealth evenly among its 1.3 billion-strong population and the widening wealth gap is at the top of the agenda of the country’s annual parliamentary session which opened on Saturday.

“The most important thing we can do is teach them (poor people) how to help themselves and help them get rich through hard work,” Zong Qinghou, the founder of China’s largest soft drinks maker Wahaha, told a news conference.

Zong, who leapt 11 places to top the Hurun Rich List in 2010 with a fortune of $12 billion, is one of nearly 3,000 delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting in Beijing.

“In the 30 years since reform and opening up, people’s living standards have increased greatly but our goal is to make them even better,” the beverage tycoon told reporters.

Over the next five years “we will attach even more importance to (income) distribution and further reduce the wealth gap.”

Wahaha, which is based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, gave its workers a pay rise every year and had built factories in poor regions to “create job opportunities and help local economic development”, Zong said.

Companies should “first create wealth for society and let the workers get rich first.”

“If they have strong conditions and more economic power, they can do more charity work.”

Zong praised government efforts to improve the country’s social safety net and boost wages which has allowed people “to dare to spend money.”

“Now we are proposing to expand the distribution so incomes can be further increased,” he said.

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday that the country aimed to “basically eradicate poverty” within less than a decade.

Wen told an NPC panel that a 10-year poverty reduction plan running until 2020 would substantially raise China’s poverty threshold, currently set at about $0.50 a day, the state Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua added that 150 million Chinese live on less than $1 a day.

In his opening speech to the rubber-stamp parliament on Saturday, Wen had said that addressing the “large income gap” dividing rich and poor was a key priority for the next five years.

Despite the yawning wealth gap, Zong rejected criticism that China’s rich had done little to help the millions who still live in poverty despite rapid economic growth over the past three decades.

“Chinese companies are more philanthropic than foreign companies,” he said.

“Every time there is a major natural disaster they contribute money.”

A banquet for China’s super rich hosted by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett last September sparked debate about Chinese philanthropy and there were reports that wealthy invitees had been reluctant to attend.

The Global Times said in a commentary piece that philanthropy was still in its infancy in China and was “not popular among Chinese business people”.

Zong admitted he did not go to the dinner but said he was busy that night.

– AFP/de

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