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Rogue listmaking and China's wealthiest

Last week, the Hurun Report released the top two on its 2009 China rich list, a ranking of the wealthiest people on the mainland: Wang Chuanfu at $5.1 billion, whose company makes electric cars and batteries, and Zhang Yin at $4.9 billion, whose company produces recycled paper products. The rest of the list comes out this month.

A few things about these two titans and the rich list and its older versions interested me. First, as the United States' billionaires are getting fewer and poorer, China's are getting more plentiful and richer. There are now 131 dollar billionaires in China -- compared with around 350 in the United States.

Second, an exceedingly obvious point but one to marvel at: Rich people in China own companies which make things. The country remains the organ that produces the world's stuff -- batteries, cars, paper, widgets, tires, you name it. And these companies remain relatively undiversified, vertically, not horizontally. One member of the rich list, for instance, owns a company that produces pig feed. 20 years from now, he might own a conglomerate that makes pig feed, feeds it to pigs, slaughters them, and sells the meat. Then, 20 years from then, he might own a holding company which subcontracts out all of those functions to workers and producers in cheaper markets.

In contrast, the 10 richest people in the United States (in descending order: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, assorted Waltons, Michael Bloomberg, and Charles and David Koch) run diversified companies which trade in finance, technology, information, and real estate.

I also took a bit of interest in the producer of the Hurun Report -- one Rupert Hoogewerf. He's a Luxembourgian alumnus of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen who produced Forbes' China rich list between 1999 and 2003. At that point, it seems that Forbes fired him, possibly due to "public doubts and questions of the accuracy and authority of the wealth ranking year after year," according to state paper China Daily. It added: "It is understood that he received no compensation settlement from Forbes."

The official line is that Forbes simply decided to have a Shanghai editor manage the production of the list. But I like the idea of list-maker Hoogewerf going rogue. Does make you wonder about the accuracy of those lists, though...

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Abizaid looks at the big picture

In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen.  John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.

Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."

"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.

The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.

"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.