Gates, Buffett set to take philanthropy mission to China’s rich

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gates, Buffett set to dine with China’s rich

BEIJING — Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett are set to meet China’s super rich Wednesday to sell the art of giving over a dinner that has sparked some soul searching among the world’s second-largest number of billionaires.

Although the two have said they will not be asking China’s newly minted millionaires to give up their fortunes, there have been reports some invitees were reluctant to attend because they did not want to be pressured.

Because of that concern, Gates and Buffett, who have campaigned to persuade American billionaires to give most of their fortunes to charity, issued a letter earlier this month saying they won’t be pushing anyone to give up their fortunes but wanted to promote philanthropy.

The private dinner, which local media says will be in a mansion on the edge of Beijing modeled after the baroque 17th century Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte in France, is expected to gather several dozen people.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said Wednesday that Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, chairman and CEO of property developer SOHO China, and Niu Gensheng, founder of Mengniu Dairy, were among the invitees.

Veteran actor Jet Li and tycoon Wang Chuanfu, who owns automaker BYD Co., are also among those likely to attend, the China Daily paper said.

There are at least 875,000 U.S. dollar millionaires in China, according to Shanghai-based analyst Rupert Hoogewerf, who studies China’s wealthy and compiles the country’s equivalent of the Forbes list. But over the past decade, the distribution of wealth has grown increasingly uneven — incomes averaged just $3,600 last year.

Buffett was also in China to attend a series of events by BYD Co. to highlight the company’s clean energy strategy. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns a 10 percent stake in BYD.

At an event Wednesday in Beijing, BYD announced it would donate 1,000 sets of electricity storage systems for houses in remote areas of Tibet.

“We take for granted having electricity. Many families haven’t had electricity. It can change the world,” Buffett said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation office in China said earlier this month that some invitees to the dinner had asked if they would be required to pledge donations.

This prompted the two billionaires to issue a letter last week, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, saying that while 40 super-wealthy American families have signed what they call the “giving pledge” at the urging of Gates and Buffett, the drive was not necessarily suited to China.

“We know that the Giving Pledge is just one approach to philanthropy, and we do not know if it’s the right path forward for China,” they wrote in the letter.

Gates and Buffett, who has pledged to give most of his fortune to charity over time with the biggest chunk going to the Gates Foundation, said they just wanted to share experiences with China’s successful businesspeople. But they noted the country’s newly minted wealthy were at a key moment when they could make a significant impact.

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