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Chinese Businessman Seeks to Build Nicaraguan Canal

4:04 PM, Jul 24, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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Both Wang Jing and HKND Group remain shrouded in mystery. The 40-year-old billionaire claims he is “a very normal Chinese citizen” who lives with his mother, but he has declined to say where he attended college, and it’s still unclear how exactly he amassed his fortune. Despite all the skepticism that greeted their announcement, and despite all the obvious hurdles their project will encounter, Wang and Ortega say they are optimistic that the canal will eventually become a reality. “There would . . . not be much reason to take Wang and Ortega seriously,” writes journalist Gwynne Dyer, “if it were not for one fact: Chinese businessmen do not launch projects of this scale without the support of the Chinese government. The risk of embarrassment is just too high.”

For now, nobody knows precisely what role the Chinese government is playing in Wang’s venture. However, the South China Morning Post has reported that a prominent Chinese state-owned company, China Railway Construction Corporation, is conducting a feasibility study of the canal project. “I don’t want it to become a joke or an example of a failed overseas Chinese enterprise,” Wang said last month.

Whatever Beijing’s influence over the canal scheme, China is clearly expanding its activity and presence in Central America and the Caribbean. The Obama administration, which continues to neglect the region, may want to take notice.

For example: China is currently building a $350 million hydroelectric plant in Honduras and a $3.5 billion mega-resort in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, Nicaragua is trying to purchase a $300 million Chinese satellite. In Costa Rica, China is financing a $25 million national police academy, a $296 million highway project, and possibly a $1.5 billion oil refinery. The highway and refinery projects were announced during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recent trip to the region, a trip that also saw Xi approve more than $3 billion worth of loans for a group of Caribbean nations. (The Costa Rican refinery project has since been halted because of disputes over a feasibility study.) Over the past few years, China has built several high-profile stadiums in Central America and the Caribbean, including a $100 million stadium in Costa Rica and a $35 million stadium in the Bahamas. It spent at least $132 million building facilities for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, which was held in the West Indies. Beijing is now funding a $31.5 million stadium in Grenada. On the diplomatic side, David Jessop of the Caribbean Council tells the Financial Times that “Chinese missions are growing in size, many Caribbean states have set up missions in Beijing, and there are frequent high-level exchanges of politicians.”

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