China’s Zhong Shanshan eclipses Mukesh Ambani as Asia’s richest man

Ambani's two-year reign as Asia’s No. 1 ended after Zhong’s worth grew by 5.7 billion euros in 2020

Zhong Shanshan
The Chinese magnate started out in life doing odd jobs such as a construction worker and journalist | Photo: Twitter

China’s private billionaire Zhong Shanshan has eclipsed Indian business titan Mukesh Ambani as Asia’s richest man in the latest ranking that also unseated China’s Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

Mukesh Ambani’s two-year reign as Asia’s number one ended after Zhong’s worth grew by 5.7 billion euros in 2020. Zhong’s net worth of 63.8 billion euros also puts him in the eighth slot in the world of rich people, according to separate rankings.

Zhong, who rarely makes public appearances and is called the “Lone Wolf,” is nearly 16.4 billion euros richer than Jack Ma, one of the brightest corporate stars in China.

Tale and troubles of India’s Ambani

India’s Ambani, who has given domestic business rivals a run for their money in sectors spanning oil, telecom to grocery, was at 63 billion euros when Zhong, a school dropout, crept up from behind to become the continent’s richest man.

The Indian businessman took a direct hit when global oil prices plunged amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ambani’s wealth shrunk by 4.7 billion euros in just a single day in March, which then led to the coronation of Jack Ma as Asia’s richest man.

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But the Indian seemed to make a comeback until the 66-year-old Zhong grabbed the space. In recent days, Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. has also run afoul of India’s markets watchdog.

Self-reliant India

Analysts say 63-year-old Ambani would rise on the back of the government’s heady push for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant nation which has brought joy to Indian corporations such as his Reliance business group.

“In this process, what the government wants is to make India into a global leader in production,” said analyst Shivaji Sarkar. “This campaign will also enable Indian companies to provide support not only to local entrepreneurs but also to global entrepreneurship,” Sarkar told RFI.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi added to that hope in a weekend public speech. “The last few decades saw multi-national corporations from abroad do business and prosper in India but this decade will belong to the Indian MNCs,” the prime minister said.

Sparkling water

But Hangzhou-born Zhong seems to need little outside help.

Luck favored Zhong, also a vaccine maker, following the September 8 listing of his primary business, Nongfu Springs which controls nearly a fourth of China’s bottled water market.

His dazzling performance on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where share prices of Nongfu Spring bubbled past 60 percent, was largely due to worries over tap water quality in parts of the Communist State.

Nongfu Spring and his vaccine making firm Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy posted over 2.9 billion euros in revenue in 2019.

The Chinese magnate started out in life doing odd jobs such as a construction worker and journalist. He even sold soda pop before establishing his own business.