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Chinese businessman speaks up

worldchinesebusinessmanofmystery.jpegBEIJING — The mysterious Chinese businessman behind a $40 billion plan to build a canal through Nicaragua pledged transparency today — but refused to reveal where he attended college.

Wang Jing, 40, who says his initial wealth came from a gold mine investment in Cambodia, is the only public face for a project that on paper would challenge the Panama Canal’s monopoly on transporting oil, ore and containers between Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports and Asian markets.

Nicaragua’s Congress last week granted Wang’s Cayman Islands-registered HKND company a 50-year concession to develop the canal, following a September agreement with president Daniel Ortega. HKND in turn is a unit of HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Ltd, a firm Wang had registered in Hong Kong just a month before the deal with Ortega.

Wang denied any family connection to the Chinese government, military or ruling Communist Party. Connections, or guanxi, are often the hidden ingredient behind sudden success in China.

“I always hoped people would pay attention to the project and not to me personally,” he told a news conference at a luxury hotel in central Beijing.

“I am a very normal Chinese citizen. I couldn’t be more normal.”

The plan — which has generated a lot of skepticism from industry experts — is to build a 286-km (178-mile) canal connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific via Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest freshwater lake.

It would cost about four years’ worth of Nicaragua’s annual gross domestic product, and would likely be three times longer than the Panama Canal, which took a decade to build.

Speaking later in an interview with Reuters, Wang said HKND would head a consortium of partners that would operate “fairly, impartially and openly” and might include international firms.

It would be financed by large Chinese and international banks that he declined to name, although he said financing negotiations were going smoothly. (Reuters)

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