US billionaires host banquet for China's wealthiest

US billionaires Bill Gates (R) and Warren Buffett The event has inspired debate in China about what it means to give to charity

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US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have hosted a dinner in Beijing for 50 of China's richest people.

At a news conference, the pair said they discussed philanthropy in China and how to encourage people to give more to charity.

The two men have already convinced a number of extremely wealthy Americans to give away half their fortunes.

There was great secrecy surrounding the event, which came amid reports wealthy invitees had been reluctant to attend.

Mr Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, dismissed rumours that some wealthy Chinese business people had been reluctant to meet him and Warren Buffett.

He said two out of three people invited had turned up to the dinner, which was held in a replica French-style castle in Beijing.

Mr Gates said he had heard some interesting ideas, but he said that China's economic reforms had only recently started to produce rich people - and many of them were still unsure about what to do with their money.

Inspired debate

It was unclear if anyone pledged to donate money at the Beijing dinner, says the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing.

Mr Buffett, the chairman of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, said he had come to China to hear about philanthropy in the country and not to ask people to give.

"No-one was asked in anyway, either indirectly or directly, to sign up to anything last night," he said.

"This is a key generation for new China. Today's generation of successful entrepreneurs has the chance to lead and inspire giving for generations to come," he said.

The state-run Global Times said the guest list of 50 of China's super-rich included Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the CEO of property developer SOHO China, and Niu Gensheng, founder of Mengniu Dairy.

Another of those attending was Chen Guangbiao - a multi-millionaire who made his money by recycling waste material from the construction industry.

He told the BBC that he had already decided to leave all his money to charity when he dies.

"Giving and helping has been part of Chinese culture for 5,000 years. But charity has only really developed in China over the last 30 years, since we introduced economic reforms.

"People have only just started to get rich and we've only recently been able to feed ourselves," he says.

Our correspondent says that handing over money to good causes is not as well established in China as in some other countries.

If this dinner has achieved anything, it has been to inspire debate about what it means to give to charity, he says.

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