China created more than 200 billionaires last year as a booming stock market and a slew of new company listings offset the damage caused by the Covid pandemic.
The Hurun Global Rich List showed that 259 Chinese broke into the billion-dollar club in 2020, more than the rest of the world combined and taking the country to a total of 1,058 billionaires - the first to break the 1,000 mark.
By comparison, the US created just 70 new billionaires last year bringing its overall total to 696.
China - the country where Covid first emerged and which has been accused of covering up its early spread, leading to the pandemic - has seen its economy boom while the rest of the world's finances have been hammered by the disease.
China created 259 billionaires in 2020, more than the rest of the world combined and led by Zhong Shanshan (left) who topped the rich-list with a wealth of $85billion. Colin Huang (right) was one of just three billionaires to add more than $50billion to their wealth in 2020
The country was the only major world economy to grow at all last year, with GDP up by 2.3 per cent. The US shrank 3.7 per cent, Germany was down 5 per cent, and the UK by 11 per cent.
That growth helped create new billionaires, with Zhong Shanshan of bottled water giant Nongfu leading the pack - becoming China's richest man after overtaking Jack Ma, who fell foul of Chinese leadership over the last 12 months.
Shanshan is worth an estimated $85billion after his drinks brand - which sells tea, coffee and juices as well as red-labeled bottles of water - went public.
Zhong, a former construction worker, made his cash following a $1.1 billion initial public offering in Hong Kong last year.
Meanwhile a clampdown on ecommerce giant Alibaba saw tycoon Jack Ma fall down the pecking order.
The one-time darling of China's entrepreneurs came under pressure from regulators, who have reigned in Alibaba and fintech arm Ant Group on anti-trust issues.
Three individuals globally added more than $50 billion in a single year, the survey found: Tesla's Elon Musk, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Colin Huang of Pinduoduo, one of China's fastest-growing ecommerce players.
Huang is now worth an estimated $60billion, putting him seventh on China's rich-list and 57th globally.
Overall, China continues to lead the world's wealth creation, Hurun's report said, adding 490 new billionaires in the past five years compared with the 160 added in the US.
Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf said that even with the pandemic chaos, the past year saw the biggest wealth increase of the past decade due to new listings and booming stock markets.
'Asia has, for the first time in perhaps hundreds of years, more billionaires than the rest of the world combined,' he added.
The report also flagged a shift in Hong Kong, pointing out that the city's entrepreneurs are now being 'dwarfed' by their counterparts in the mainland - only three Hong Kong tycoons make it into the China top 50.
Six of the world's top 10 cities with the highest concentration of billionaires are now in China, with Beijing top of the heap for the sixth year running.
Economists now believe that China will overtake America to become the world's largest economy by 2028.
A study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research said the Covid-19 pandemic and the corresponding economic fallout had tipped China's economic rivalry with the US 'in China's favour'.
Meanwhile, China has used the pandemic crisis to cement its position as a player on the world stage, offering half a billion doses of its Covid vaccines to 45 countries to help them recover - including in the US's back-yard of South America.
Chile took delivery of the jabs in late January, in a move hailed by the country's president Sebastian Pinera as 'a day of joy, emotion and hope'.
Inoculations with Chinese vaccines have begun in more than 25 countries, and the shots have been delivered to another 11, according to an Associated Press tally.
It's a potential face-saving coup for China, which has been determined to transform itself from an object of mistrust over its initial mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak to a savior.
'We're seeing certainly real-time vaccine diplomacy start to play out, with China in the lead in terms of being able to manufacture vaccines within China and make them available to others,' said Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University.
China has said it is supplying 'vaccine aid' to 53 countries and exports to 27, but it rejected a request by the AP for the list. Beijing has denied vaccine diplomacy, and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said China considered the vaccine a 'global public good.' Chinese experts reject any connection between the export of its vaccines and the revamping of its image.
China has targeted the low- and middle-income countries largely left behind as rich nations scooped up most of the pricey vaccines produced by the likes of Pfizer and Moderna. And despite a few delays of its own, China has largely capitalized on slower-than-hoped-for deliveries by U.S. and European vaccine makers.
Like many other countries, Chile received far fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine than first promised. Chinese company Sinovac acted quickly, sending in 4 million doses.
The choices are limited for Chile and many other low- and middle-income countries. Vaccine deployment globally has been dominated by rich nations, which have snapped up 5.4 billion of the 7.8 billion doses purchased worldwide, according to Duke University.
China's vaccines, which can be stored in standard refrigerators, are attractive to many countries that may struggle to accommodate the ultracold storage needs of vaccines like Pfizer's.
Sinovac and Sinopharm rely on a traditional technology in which a live virus is killed and then purified, triggering an immune response.
Some countries view it as safer than the newer, less-proven technology used by some Western competitors that targets the coronavirus' spike protein, despite the lack of publicly available safety data on the Chinese vaccines.
In Europe, China is providing the vaccine to countries such as Serbia and Hungary - a significant geopolitical victory in Central Europe and the Balkans, where the West, China and Russia are competing for political and economic influence.
Hungary is the first EU country to use a Chinese vaccine.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.