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India, China See Jump in Millionaires in 2007

India and China saw the world's biggest increase in the number of millionaires in 2007 and Taiwan says it will ease controls on investments in China. Claudia Blume in Hong Kong has more on these and other business stories from Asia.

The number of super-rich individuals in Asia rose almost nine percent last year, to 2.8 million people. Their combined wealth was $9.5 trillion, an increase of more than 12 percent compared with a year earlier. This is the result of a report released by investment bank Merrill Lynch and consulting firm Capgemini.

India saw the world's fastest growth rate in the number of rich individuals. The country now has 123,000 citizens who have more than $1 million, an increase of more than 22 percent compared with 2006. China came in second, with more than 20 percent growth. With 415,000 high net worth individuals, China had the world's fifth largest population of millionaires in 2007, surpassing France.

Amy Auster, head of international economics at Australia's ANZ bank says the number of the super-rich in Asia is likely to continue to rise.

"Asia holds 60 percent or more of the global population so you look at this report and say - 60 percent of the global population, roughly one third of the high net worth individuals - that's still quite a big gap that is obviously going to close over time as the population generally becomes more wealthy and you have a growing number of individuals who are going to that high wealth," said Auster.

Taiwan will ease controls on investments in China. Stock brokerages from Taiwan will be allowed, for example, to invest up to 20 percent of their net worth in China, double the current ceiling of 10 percent. The new rules follow improved cross-straits relations since the election of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou earlier this year. China and Taiwan split after a civil war in 1949.

An international consortium led by South Korea's Daewoo International agreed to sell natural gas from Burma to China National Petroleum Corporation. The consortium, which also includes an Indian company and a state-run Burmese company, operates two gas fields off the Burmese coast, which should start production by 2012. Daewoo International expects the deal with China will generate more than $10 billion
in profit over 25 years.

Other Asian countries are also eager to tap into Burma's natural gas reserves. A Thai energy firm, PTT Exploration and Production, signed a deal with Burma's military government allowing it to drill for natural gas in the southwestern gulf area of Martaban. The Thai company will work with state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to develop the field.

Thailand's energy minister says the deal is important to meet the country's increasing demand for gas and to secure Thailand's long-term energy security.

Unlike most Asian countries, many Western governments, including the United States, have imposed economic sanctions against Burma because of its poor human rights record and suppression of political opposition. The military, however, says it plans to allow national elections in 2010.