BEIJING, September 29 - Bill Gates and Warren Buffett hosted a banquet Wednesday for China's super rich that sparked debate about Chinese philanthropy, amid reports that wealthy invitees had been reluctant to attend.
Gates and Buffett, who have already persuaded 40 wealthy US individuals to hand over more than half of their fortunes, had insisted they would not pressure attendees for money and simply wanted to learn about charity in China.
The guest-list of 50 rich industrialists was not made public, at Buffet and Gates' request, but the state-run Global Times said it included Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the chairman and CEO of property developer SOHO China, and Niu Gensheng, founder of Mengniu Dairy.
"The meeting was a complete success," Buffett said in a statement released after the 90-minute discussion and reception at the five-star Chateau Laffitte Hotel.
"We had a terrific exchange of views, and learned a great deal about the good work that is already underway."
Gates said: "We've both been very eager to have this meeting. We're grateful so many people made the time to attend, and for their candour and insights.
"People are doing some very good thinking about how their good fortune can have a positive impact on China and the world."
Chinese film star Jet Li, himself a philanthropist, had said he would meet Gates and Buffett before the banquet to chat about charity.
The event has caused a stir in China, the world's second-largest economy, where the number of rich people is growing fast in parallel with the nation's stunning economic development.
China had 64 dollar billionaires last year, second only to the United States' 403, according to Forbes magazine. The number rose 31 percent in 2009 from the previous year, state media has said.
Still, the official Xinhua news agency reported earlier this month that only a small number of business leaders had confirmed their attendance at the banquet for fear of being leaned on to give.
The Global Times said in a commentary piece that philanthropy was still in its infancy in China and was "not popular among Chinese business people".
But charitable giving is nevertheless on the rise.
Tycoon Chen Guangbiao, for example, pledged this month to give his fortune -- estimated at more than 700 million dollars -- to charity after he dies and said more than 100 other Chinese had since contacted him to promise the same.
"If you have a cup of water, that's for one person to drink. If you have a bucket of water, that's for your family to drink. But if you own a river, you should share it for all to enjoy," Chen, 42, recently told AFP in an interview.
Gates and Buffett spoke about the Giving Pledge -- which has signed up 40 wealthy US families to donate their fortunes -- but the two stressed that China needs its own unique approach to charity.
"Recently, Bill and I wrote that we expected China to surprise the world in how it embraces philanthropy," Buffett said in the statement.
"If Bill and I could contribute to encouraging the very fortunate to follow their desire to do more, then our trip was a complete success."