Chinese business tycoon has his eye on Lapland
Huang Nubo has made a land purchase offer to Iceland, insisting that he does not plan to bring Chinese missiles to the North
By Petteri Tuohinen in Beijing
When China began to open up in the 1980s, Huang Nubo from Beijing resigned from his job in the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, formerly known in English as the Propaganda Department.
Huang wanted to go into business and get rich.
He started on his quest by selling tea and photocopy machines, as well as by sub-leasing office premises at a profit.
”I had to borrow the start-up capital. It all started off in a very small way. It was a hard time”, says Huang, on the 16th floor of the Beijing head office of his investment company Zhongkun.
According to Forbes magazine, Huang’s fortune is currently worth more than a billion dollars.
”That's not true”, says Huang, 54, stroking cats which are moving free in his office and hopping onto desktkops.
”My assets are worth more than five billion dollars”, he notes calmly.
Huang interrupts his sentence as someone phones him from the United States.
After the call he smiles: ”Hmm. You seem to bring me good luck. I just managed to lease out a building I bought in the United States.”
Earlier this year, Huang attracted a modicum of international attention when he reported on his plans to buy a 300 square kilometre tract of land in Iceland in order to build a holiday complex.
The deal, worth USD 200 million, is still pending, as it is subject to approval by the Icelandic and Chinese authorities. The project caused an intense uproar, arousing international interest and newspaper articles.
After all, we are talking about 0.2 per cent of the country’s total land-area.
Moreover, he was suspected of being an envoy of the Communist Party of China.
In terms of geopolitics, the location of Iceland between Europe and the United States is important.
The significance of the location will be emphasised if the plans to open the so-called Northern Sea Route come to fruition. The route is a shipping lane from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean specifically running along the Russian Arctic coast from Murmansk on the Barents Sea, across the roof of Siberia, to the Bering Strait and the Far East.
In freight traffic between Asia and Europe, the new route would significantly reduce the number of days at sea.
”No, I am not planning to bring Chinese missiles to Iceland”, Huang laughs.
Huang wanted to invest in Iceland, as he got to know some Icelandic people when he was a student in the 1970s.
Last year, when Huang paid a visit to Iceland in order to attend a poetry seminar, he became even more excited about the country.
Huang supported the seminar with a donation of USD 1 million.
In Huang’s view, Iceland is a good target, as the country is recovering from the banking crisis of 2008 and the prices are low.
”The negative reactions against the project came as a total surprise to me. Even though I fully understand that western people believe that the Chinese government is behind the project, it is still ridiculous”, Huang says.
The real estate tycoon is interested even in other Nordic countries, if he manages to pull off the project in Iceland.
”Oh yes. Absolutely”, Huang replies to the question of future investments, for example in Finland.
When it comes to the other Nordic countries, Huang has no precise plans, but he estimates that he could invest USD 200 million.
In the Finnish context, Huang is interested particularly in Christmas tourism, and one investment target could be Korvatunturi, the home of Santa Claus.
”I could start Christmas business in Finland by bringing Chinese tourists in and taking them up there”, Huang says.
It would be worthwhile for Finns to market Christmas in China, as Chinese people are almost as excited about Christmas as they are about the Chinese New Year, Huang insists.
”We are speaking about huge, huge markets. It would be worth the trouble for the Finnish government to invite Chinese tourists to Finland for Christmas”, he believes.
Standing in a pencil-holder on Huang’s desktop is a souvenir brought by Huang’s assistant from Helsinki-Vantaa Airport: a reindeer-antler bottle-opener.
Huang’s primary business idea is to tempt Chinese tourists to travel to the Nordic countries.
He also hopes that American, Russian, and Japanese tourists would become his customers.
Huang’s goal is to have 300,000 members in his own travel club.
Huang knows that there are also natural resources in Finland.
In his opinion, the resources could be utilized better in cooperation with the Chinese, provided that politics would be left outside of business.
”Inside a period of ten years, China could be the country making the greatest volume of foreign investments in the world. This could also benefit the Nordic region”, Huang explains.
In 2010, the Chinese made investments worth USD 220 billion abroad. This volume is likely to increase by a factor of ten during the current decade.
However, Huang has not found the Icelandic experiences very encouraging.
He praises the United States, saying that it is a great deal easier to do business there.
”Iceland’s decision on my project will be followed with interest worldwide. If the country does not accept it, Chinese investors will avoid Iceland in the future”, Huang notes darkly.
In addition to acquiring a fortune worth millions of dollars, Huang has also climbed to the top of the "Seven Summits" - the highest mountains on seven continents - and has been to both the South Pole and the North Pole. Being also a poet known by the pen name Luo Ying, Huang has written books of poetry.
This might be enough for most of us, but what else does the man still plan to do?
”I would like to travel a lot and to write books about my trips. I would also like to hear how differently people think in different countries”, Huang plans.
BACKGROUND: China has a million millionaires
The crises in the world economy have not reduced the extremely rich Chinese to poverty.
According to the Forbes magazine, which keeps lists of the world’s richest people, there are currently as many as 146 billionaires in China, with assets worth more than one billion dollars.
A year ago the number of billionaires was 128.
At the same time, the fortunes of the rich Chinese have increased by about 10 per cent in a year, even though the share prices on stock markets have collapsed, even in China.
According to Forbes, the current value of the assets of the 400 richest Chinese is worth USD 459 billion.
According to the top 50 of the Hurun Rich List 2011, the annual ranking of the richest individuals in China, the number of Chinese millionaires has also increased by nearly 10 per cent.
According to the Hurun Wealth Report, China today has 960,000 individuals with a personal wealth of 10 million Yuan or more (EUR 1.16 million). In other words, a smidgen short of a million millionaires.
The richest individual in China is Liang Wengen, 55, Chairman of China’s heavy machinery maker Sany Group, with an estimated fortune of USD 9.3 billion. Huang Nubo, who regards the Forbes numbers with scepticism, is ranked by the magazine at only 129th on the list.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.10.2011
The Seven Summits (Huang Nubo has now collected 7+2 with both Poles)
BBC News: China´s Huang Nubo seeks Iceland land for eco-resort, 30.8.2011
Northern Sea Route (Wikipedia)
PETTERI TUOHINEN / Helsingin Sanomat