"I know you don't believe me," said Wang, who reckons that he's
forked-out about $100 million in canal preparation work, and is
burning as much as $10 million a month on the project.
"You believe there are people from the Chinese government in the
background providing support. Why, in the end, is only Wang Jing out
High-ranking Chinese officials including President Xi Jinping,
Premier Li Keqiang and former leaders Jiang Zemin and Wen Jiabao
have all visited the state-connected wireless communication
technologies company Wang took control of four years ago.
Wang, whose entrepreneurism went mostly unnoticed in China and
elsewhere before last year's Nicaragua announcement and a subsequent
$3 billion Black Sea port development plan, has not helped matters
by refusing to talk in detail about himself or broad swathes of his
During two interviews at the headquarters of Beijing Xinwei Telecom
Technology Inc and in several follow-up emails, the 41-year-old Wang
discussed Nicaragua, Beijing Xinwei's recent deal to undertake the
biggest reverse takeover in Chinese stock market history and his
background, providing fresh details to a life that remains
"I was born in December 1972 in Beijing," said Wang. "All these
years I've lived a very ordinary life."
Wang grabbed global headlines last June when he sealed a
controversial no-bid 50-year renewable concession from Nicaragua's
Sandinista government to develop the $50 billion canal to rival
Panama's, and related facilities.
Nicaragua preparation is on schedule, Wang said. In January, he and
President Daniel Ortega issued a joint statement to address what
Wang described as "misleading reports" that the start of
construction would be delayed.
The proposed scope is enormous, comprising construction of a
waterway that may extend 130 miles, depending on the route selected,
along with two ports, a railway, oil pipeline, and an international
The canal would be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal,
about 500 miles to the southeast.
The scale of the project has led some to suggest it could only be
viable with the backing of the Chinese government, which might see
it as a geopolitical play to balance U.S. influence in Central
"I can't imagine (Wang) would have gone forward without at least
coordinating with the Chinese government," said R Evan Ellis,
assistant professor for Hemispheric Defense Studies at National
Defense University in Washington. "Big Chinese companies just don't
parachute down into Latin America."
The project, Ellis estimates, may provide China with commercial
leverage over key Latin American governments and local companies,
which may prove crucial to guarantee trade routes and access to raw
"How the project ends will likely depend on the government of the
People's Republic of China," he said.
For Wang, who can make a small fortune from licensing arrangements
alone, the project represents a perilous highwire act. The
ocean-connecting waterway has been criticized as the proverbial
white elephant, while Wang has been ridiculed in the global press
for lacking experience developing or financing big infrastructure.
Wang only established Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development
Investment Co (HKND) in August 2012 and opened offices in Hong
Kong's premier International Financial Center weeks ahead of the
June 2013 announcement.
Nicaraguan opposition politicians also question Wang's commitment to
addressing social and environmental issues, particularly how the
proposed project may affect Lake Nicaragua, an important freshwater
source in the region.
Wang has brought in international specialists to help quell
concerns. McKinsey & Co was hired to conduct an economic feasibility
study, while Environmental Resources Management Ltd is conducting an
environmental and social impact study for the various routes under
SBE, the Belgium-based civil engineering firm specializing in canal
hydraulics, and MEC Mining, the Australia-based engineering
consultancy also have been hired. Washington consultancy McLarty
Associates and law firm Kirkland & Ellis also were contracted.
As many as 400 engineers and technicians of different nationalities
are currently working on a canal feasibility study, Nicaragua's
Canal Authority head Manuel Coronel Kautz told Reuters. There are
between 600 and 700 people working on the project, Wang said.
McKinsey & Co infrastructure partner Stefan Matzinger declined to
answer questions. ERM regional chief David McArthur, McLarty
Associate's managing partner Stephen Donehoo and Kirkland & Ellis
partner Chuan Li did not respond to emails or telephone calls.
FINDING $50 BILLION
Financing is a thornier issue.
Wang, who may be prepared to spend as much as $300 million of his
own cash, said that he will use a combination of cross-shareholding,
bank lending and debt issuance to raise the estimated $50 billion
needed to finance the project.
[to top of second column]
Five international groups had already agreed to invest in the
project, he added. "We have not only signed
memorandum-of-understanding, we are working on final preparations
for executable, irrevocable contracts," he said.
On April 23, Xugong Group Construction Machinery Co., one of China's
biggest construction equipment manufacturers, announced it had
reached a framework agreement to take a 1.5 to 3 percent stake in
Wang's development company.
No dollar amount was attached to the investment, which also would
make Xugong the sole supplier of engineering equipment to the canal
project. More announcements are expected in the coming weeks, Wang
Other companies that may participate in an international
consortium include state conglomerate China Railway Construction
Corp., China's biggest overseas engineering contractor, which is one
of Wang's strategic partners that has been brought in to help with
feasibility studies. Wang said that he has spoken with Chinese
state-owned banks but would not say whether any would provide
"I want to point out that it isn't going to take $50 billion in cash
to do this," Wang said.
Wang's other big infrastructure project, a $3 billion plan to build
a deepwater port on the Black Sea about 60 km (35 miles) north of
Sevastopol, is facing greater uncertainty.
In December, Wang announced the agreement between HKND and an
unknown Ukrainian firm during a visit to Beijing by Ukrainian
President Viktor Yanukovich, who was ousted two months later. A
photograph captures Wang at the time talking about the port project
with Yanukovich and China's Vice Premier Ma Kai. The port site is
located in the middle of the Crimean peninsula that has been annexed
By February, 20 HKND workers had completed their site inspection
work and were forced to return to China.
"We're still confident, but given the current complexity of the
Ukraine situation, in terms of our procedures, our schedule and our
rhythm, we will need to replan," Wang said.
"I'M VERY ORDINARY"
Wang looks flush with cash - at least on paper. His main asset is a
36.97 percent stake in Beijing Xinwei, the government-backed
developer of China's wireless communications standard that now
specializes in mobile network development and products. Beijing
Xinwei in March estimated its assets at 26.89 billion yuan.
Separately, Wang controls Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Co, a Hong
Kong registered firm, through mainland-registered Beijing
Interoceanic Canal Investment Management Co, according to filings
with the Shanghai Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Companies Registry.
Wang also reports full ownership of several offshore subsidiaries,
including seven Netherlands firms related to the Nicaragua project;
a British Virgin Islands-registered aircraft investment company, and
media and sports entities, all of which were registered within the
He owns Southeast Asia (Cambodia) Agriculture Development Group Inc,
which was registered in Cambodia in September 2009, according to
Shanghai Stock Exchange filings.
Less is known about Wang's path to success. The youthful chief
executive refused to discuss his family background, saying only that
his father was an ordinary office worker and died in 2010 following
an 11-year illness; his mother, who is about 70 years old, is
retired; and that he has a daughter.
"It's that simple," said Wang. "I'm very ordinary."
Wang says he studied at Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese
Medicine but left before graduation, returning years later to
organize Beijing Changping Traditional Health and Culture School.
In the late 1990s, Wang said he traveled to Hong Kong to learn about
international finance and investment. He returned to Beijing in 1998
and founded Dingfu Investment Consulting Co. In Hong Kong, Wang also
established Hong Kong Divine (Dingfu) Investment Group Ltd in 2001.
He later mined gold and precious stones in Cambodia - a process he
described as slow and exacerbated by the legacy of past wars - and
opened Yingxi Construction and Engineering Co, a small contractor
that participated in projects in Beijing, Tianjin and Guangdong.
Available information about these firms is scarce.
Wang declined to elaborate on the source of his wealth. "China has
an expression 'the finest fragments of fox fur, sewn together, will
make a robe', the meaning of which is a fortune is accumulated over
time," he said.
(Additional reporting by Ivan Castro in Managua; Editing by Emily
Kaiser and Alex Richardson)
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