Beijing: After a night of wining and dining 50 of China’s richest people in the name of promoting philanthropy, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates told a horde of journalists that the biggest difference between eating with Chinese tycoons and Western ones was the food.
Thus ended the two billionaires’ mission to promote charity in China, a journey that provoked weeks of breathless speculation here about whether this nation’s much-resented class of super rich was too miserly to measure up to Western philanthropic standards.
At a news conference, Buffett and Gates said the answer was an emphatic “no”.
“I was amazed last night, really, at how similar the questions and discussions, and all that was to the dinners we had in the US,” said Buffett, who had wisecracked about the food. “The same motivations tend to exist. The mechanism for manifesting those motivations may differ from country to country.”
The two may next be travelling to India for a similar trip, Buffett said.
They said the dinner with China’s super rich was not a long-planned matter, but an offshoot of a trip that Buffett had already scheduled to Guangdong and Hunan provinces, where BYD Co. Ltd, a fast growing maker of clean-energy automobiles, has factories. Buffett’s investment conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., holds a 10% stake in the company.
“Bill and I did not sit down, take a map of the world, and say, ‘We’re going to go to that one and that one and that one,’” Buffett said. But Gates suggested that their philanthropic globetrotting was not yet over. “We may do an event in India,” he said.
Buffett and Gates, two of the best known and most admired Westerners here, announced last month that they planned to invite 50 wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs to dinner in Beijing to encourage philanthropy among China’s newly minted rich.
The mission became the subject of feverish news coverage—and something of a litmus test of Chinese generosity —after it was reported that some tycoons were turning down the invitation because they feared they would be pressed to donate money.
The two men have made headlines worldwide for enlisting Western tycoons in a public promise to give away their fortunes either during their lifetimes or in bequests after their deaths. To date, 40 people have taken the pledge, and at least one Chinese multimillionaire has said he will join them.
On Thursday, the two men pronounced the dinner an unqualified success, saying that two-thirds of those who were invited had shown up, and that more than half of those at the dinner had offered their own ideas on how Chinese philanthropy should work.
The guest list was not made public, but the Chinese media reported that it included film star Jet Li; Niu Gensheng, founder of a Chinese dairy business; and Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, who control the SOHO China real estate empire.
©2010/The New York Times