The Commercial Appeal
Chinese businessman says he can deliver on plan for Nicaragua canal
BEIJING — The Chinese businessman behind plans to build a waterway across Nicaragua to rival the Panama Canal said Tuesday that his ambitious project is no joke and is backed by experienced consultants, despite skepticism that the 40-year-old can deliver the $40 billion project.
“We don’t want it to become an international joke, and we don’t want it to turn into an example of Chinese investment failures,” Wang Jing, chairman and owner of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, told a news conference in Beijing.
Wang, a relative newcomer whose business history prior to 2010 is virtually unknown, got approval from Nicaragua’s government earlier this month for HKND to study, and possibly build and run a shipping channel across the Central American country. Some Nicaraguan lawmakers and residents have expressed reservations about the company’s competence.
“The world trade has been so developed today that it needs a new canal,” Wang said. “The Panama Canal is not enough for the trade conducted currently between East and West.”
Early assessments of the project have been favorable, taking into account future economic growth of the U. S. and China as well as the enormous Chinese appetite for mineral resources from Latin America, Wang said.
“There has been a huge amount of data and business modeling, and the results are considerably optimistic,” he said. “The return is sure to make every investor smile broadly.”
Wang said his consultants on the project have rich experience and include U. S.-based McKinsey & Co. and China’s biggest construction firm, the state-owned China Railway Construction Corp.
He said his team is proposing ways to minimize risk, for example by routing the canal through the middle of Nicaragua to avoid any potential border dispute with neighboring Costa Rica. Wang said that he hopes to deliver the feasibility report a year from now, and that the project would break ground by the end of 2014 and be completed in less than six years.
Wang offered l ittle new information about himself, saying that he comes from an ordinary Chinese family in Beijing and that he studied traditional Chinese medicine before becoming a businessman.
He has invested in several industries, including telecommunications and mining. In 2010, Wang invested in the mediumsized Chinese telecommunications company Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group. Since then he has been credited with turning it around financially, partly by expanding into overseas markets, including Nicaragua, where Xinwei was granted an operating license last November.
The company builds telecom networks and develops wireless communication technology. In Cambodia, Xinwei has become the latest player in the country’s telecommunication market by offering phone and data services that are now available in Phnom Penh, the capital, with plans to expand nationwide.
In Nicaragua, a Xinwei contract to invest as much as $700 million to improve the country’s telecom system has so far shown little sign of any spending, leading to skepticism among many residents about Wang’s competence to build a canal. “It’s all a lie,” opposition Nicaraguan congressman Eliseo Nunez said.