A central aim of David Cameron's trip to China is to secure support from cash-rich investors to fund new infrastructure in Britain. Doubtless he'd like more along the lines of Xu Weiping, the self-styled "deep thinking tycoon" and committed Anglophile whose company, Advanced Business Park (ABP), is planning to invest £1bn redeveloping London's Royal Albert Dock near City airport.
Mr Xu, as he is universally known, is thinking big, says the Evening Standard. His goal is to transform the dock into an "Asian business zone" with retail and leisure facilities on tap. Xu, a dapper fiftysomething, set his heart on the scheme when he visited London in 2008. But he had to endure endless bureaucratic wrangles before finally signing a contract with London Mayor Boris Johnson in June. He's keen to get cracking on construction and has hired architects Terry Farrell and Partners. They can't match him on imaginative vision, he says, but they "do great details, so that's fine".
There's just one problem, says The Sunday Times. Xu "cheerfully admits he doesn't yet have the money" for the scheme. Indeed, to his detractors, "Boris' new best friend" is "a charming little spiv trying his luck". With his red Bentley, penchant for chunky Swiss watches and habit of reducing his interpreter "to fits of giggles", he certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of the "discreet" Chinese tycoon, despite reportedly close connections with senior figures in the Communist Party.
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Xu grew up in Zhejiang province, trained in electro-mechanics, and started working as an engineer designing huge knitting machines. After a stint as a civil servant he moved to Beijing and went into business designing appliance components. Selling out in 1996, and now a dollar millionaire, he took a trip abroad spending three months in Hastings learning English. His big break appears to have come in 2003, when he launched a big development on the outskirts of Beijing at around the time that Wang Qishan a former civil service colleague was appointed mayor of the city.
Xu's plan was to attract multinationals and breed an "American-styled Vitality Culture". It doesn't appear to have succeeded, says the FT. There are almost no foreign companies in the development; indeed, most of its 500 low-rise offices look only partly occupied. Two malls stand derelict and the centrepiece of the project the "five star" Maya Island Hotel looked "dark and rundown". No wonder "questions have been raised about Xu's credentials" in London.
Xu doesn't care, says The Sunday Times. "It's very normal for people to doubt," he shrugs. And he doesn't reckon he'll have any trouble raising the cash. Perhaps his only regret is the toll the project is taking on his leisure time. He used to play ping-pong every afternoon, but doesn't have time now. Boris should give him a game.
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