China's rich and famous gather at top political meeting

Former NBA basketball player Yao Ming (C), who is a delegate of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is surrounded by media ahead of the opening of CPPCC outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 3, 2014.

BEIJING - Billionaires, political princelings and entertainment celebrities were among more than 2,000 delegates who gathered in Beijing Monday for the annual meeting of an official Chinese debating chamber.

The annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) opened in the Great Hall of the People with a moment of silence for the victims of a deadly knife attack in southwest China on Saturday night.

The CPPCC is part of the Communist Party-controlled governmental structure and meets once a year to discuss social and economic policies, although it has a largely symbolic role.

A total of 2,172 members were present Monday, including business tycoons, political scions and sports and movie stars, according to a transcript of the opening ceremony, which came ahead of the opening session Wednesday of the National People's Congress, China's rubber stamp parliament.

Robin Li, co-founder and chairman of Chinese search engine Baidu and according to Forbes magazine the third-richest person in China with a net worth of 67.7 billion yuan (S$13.95 billion), is a delegate representing China's business community, a list on the CPPCC website showed.

He is joined by Xu Jiayin, chairman of real estate firm Evergrande, who has a fortune estimated at 32.9 billion yuan, and Li Shufu, head of Zhejiang Geely, which bought Volvo's car business in 2010.

Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, the elder son of Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing, is also a "specially invited" member of the CPPCC, the list showed.

Political scions present

Some representatives had strong political family ties, such as Mao Xinyu, grandson of Communist China's founder Mao Zedong, and Deng Nan, a daughter of Deng Xiaoping, who opened the country to the outside world after the Cultural Revolution.

Jiang Zehui, an adoptive sister of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and Wu Zhiming, a nephew of the retired leader, were also among the delegates.

Other CPPCC members include Hong Kong martial arts star Jackie Chan and Feng Xiaogang, one of China's highest-grossing film directors known for his works such as Back to 1942, a movie about a major famine in central China during World War II.

Writer and Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan and China's choice as the Panchen Lama, a senior Tibetan Buddhist leader - who is not recognised by the exiled Dalai Lama - were also on the member list.

The CPPCC is generally seen as a symbolic organisation with little political teeth. Its role is to present Chinese politics as inclusive of other groups and social organisations than the Communist Party, despite the latter's overwhelming control.

But its membership is still coveted because it has access to the top leadership.

Five people were stripped of their CPPCC membership over the past year, reportedly for corruption offences, including Liu Yingxia, one of China's richest women.

Yu Zhengsheng, the CPPCC chairman and a member of the Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, said at the opening ceremony that the delegates must "strictly abide by" laws and "conscientiously refine their sense of morality and conduct".

"CPPCC committee members must... cherish this honour and safeguard the image of the CPPCC," he said.