BEIJING (Reuters) - Bill Gates and Warren Buffett received some “very generous” gifts during a dinner in Beijing with a small group of ultra-rich Chinese to promote charity, saying on Thursday that the event had exceeded expectations.
But neither man, two of the world’s richest people and keen philanthropists themselves, would give any details, explaining it was up to the people themselves to talk about any donations that may have been made or talked about.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about any particular individual. There were some gifts that were very generous,” Microsoft founder Gates told a news conference.
“As you know there are some people who’ve come out publicly and talked about (how) they’re going to do quite substantial philanthropy,” he added, saying that two-thirds of the people they invited had showed up, or some 50 people.
“We were very impressed. The people we were with last night had ideas about things they wanted to do. They saw the charitable sector at an early stage and were asking about what lessons there might be from the United States,” said Gates.
Buffett and Gates are urging American billionaires to give away at least half their wealth during their lifetime or upon their death by signing the Giving Pledge, which so far has 40 members.
Their dinner sparked intense media interest in China, and speculation the two would walk away empty-handed.
But they published an open letter ahead of their China visit saying they did not intend to force anyone in the country to give up their wealth, writing that all they wanted to do was share their experiences and listen to Chinese views.
“We did not pressure anyone obviously in China, and we never had the intention to,” said Buffett, the world’s third-richest man and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
“No one was asked in any way, indirectly or directly to sign up to anything last night. Bill and I will not be calling anybody. What happens in China will depend on how the Chinese people feel about a project of this sort,” he added.
The only rich Chinese person they confirmed had attended was movie star Jet Li, whose One Foundation is a partner of the Chinese Red Cross.
Chen Guangbiao, worth an estimated $440 million according to last year’s Hurun rich list, made a big deal about his attendance beforehand, and his efforts to get more Chinese tycoons to get involved in charity work and donate some of their wealth.
Gates said they may go to India next year to have a similar conversation with that country’s newly emerging band of rich.
He added that he did not know if anyone in China would set up something similar to his Giving Pledge. Based on Forbes magazine’s estimates of the wealth of the 40 members of the Giving Pledge, at least $150 billion could be given away.
“We don’t know; here in China someone may create something similar, maybe not. It’s completely up to them. Things are quite unique here and philanthropy will take its own course.”
Gates and Buffett are the second and third richest people in the world, with fortunes of $53 billion and $47 billion respectively, behind Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim who is reportedly worth $53.5 billion, according to a Forbes ranking in March.
Buffett also visited Chinese car and battery maker BYD Co Ltd on his trip. His Berkshire Hathaway owns a 10 percent stake in BYD.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills