BEIJING (Reuters) - Two of the world's richest men and most generous donors, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, said Tuesday they would not be putting pressure on China's dozens of billionaires during a visit to the country to promote giving.
Microsoft founder Gates and investor Buffett said they would not be pushing mega-wealthy families to sign up to their Giving Pledge campaign because China had to develop its own culture of philanthropy.
"Some people have wondered if we're coming to China to pressure people to give. Not at all," Buffett and Gates said in a joint letter, in response to questions from China's official Xinhua news agency.
But they said that China's newly-made fortunes offered a unique chance for their holders to make a mark on the country.
China's number of known dollar billionaires has now reached 130, higher than any other country bar the United States, according to the 2009 Hurun report on China's wealthiest people.
China's ruling Communist Party once condemned entrepreneurs and private business people as capitalist exploiters, but now welcomes them since late reformist leader Deng Xiaoping began landmark economic reforms in the 1970s.
"The present generation of successful entrepreneurs has an opportunity to set an example for future generations in China," said Warren and Gates, whose Giving Pledge has attracted 40 members who promise to give at least half of their wealth during their lifetime or upon their death.
"It is very likely they will have a substantial impact on how large-scale philanthropy grows and develops in modern China," the letter added, describing plans to meet philanthropists and wealthy individuals.
Chinese state media say only two Chinese billionaires have publicly confirmed they will be attending a dinner with Gates and Buffett to discuss the giving plan.
Philanthropy in China has complications beyond issues like possible waste or corruption that might worry Western donors.
Some wealthy Chinese fear generous donations could expose fortunes larger than the government or rivals had calculated, inviting unwanted attention.
But Gates and Warren said they expected innovation and success from China's army of potential new donors.
"As it has done in so many other ways, China will surprise the world in its embrace of philanthropy," they said.
Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Sugita Katyal