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Wahaha soft-drink tycoon tops Forbes' China rich list

SHANGHAI -- Beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou regained his position as China's richest man this year, Forbes magazine said Friday, but the global economic slump took its toll on other billionaires.

Zong, who heads soft-drink producer Wahaha, has a fortune of US$10 billion, according to the magazine's annual ranking of China's 400 richest, helping him win back the position he lost last year as his wealth rose by US$3.5 billion.

A similar list released last month by the China-based Hurun Report also crowned Zong as China richest, but put his wealth at US$12.6 billion.

Last year's number one, construction equipment magnate Liang Wengen, fell to sixth place with his wealth sliding 37 percent from last year to US$5.9 billion as his Sany company was hit by a slowdown in China's economy.

Forbes said the number of China's billionaires fell to 113 this year from 146 in 2011, while the wealth of the country's top 100 richest people declined 7 percent to US$220 billion.

In comparison, the United States has at least 400 billionaires, according to a list released by Forbes last month.

“This year we encountered a long period of economic difficulty that's rarely been seen in the past decade,” editor of Forbes China, Zhou Jiangong, told a news conference.

“This is a year which saw wealth created by Chinese entrepreneurs shrinking,” he said.

Wu Yajun, who runs property giant Longfor, is the country's richest woman, with a fortune of US$6.2 billion, up 5 percent from last year.

She is also one of five property magnates in the top 10, despite government controls on the sector aimed at curbing speculation.

In a country that has the largest online population in the world, it is perhaps not surprising that two Internet billionaires made the top ten.

Robin Li, co-founder of China's top search engine Baidu, held on to second place despite a slide in his company's stock price, with wealth of US$8.1 billion, down 12 percent.

And Ma Huateng, the owner of Tencent, which operates popular instant messaging and microblog services, took fourth spot with US$6.4 billion, gaining 49 percent from last year.

Wang Jianlin, of property developer Wanda, is at number three with US$8 billion, roughly doubling his fortune from last year.

“Some lost ground, while others in the same sector made gains. Suffice to say that this year's list reflects the uncertainty that can arise from China's moderating economic expansion,” said Zhou of Forbes.

China's economy recorded annual growth of 7.6 percent in the second quarter this year, its worst performance in three years. The government will next week announce third-quarter performance.

The world's second-largest economy has been rocked by Europe's debt crisis and the weak US recovery, prompting Beijing to cut interest rates and ramp up infrastructure spending to spur growth.

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