An eccentric Chinese tycoon announced Tuesday he wants to buy the New York Times.
Chen Guangbiao, the self-made owner of a recycling empire, said he is due to meet a “leading shareholder” in the Times on Jan. 5 to open negotiations, even though the company’s chairman, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., has long insisted the Times is not for sale, reported TIME.
Americans are already up in arms about Chinese entities buying up prime real estate, packaged goods companies and bankrupt US cities.
But while buying trophies like Chase Manhattan Plaza, Smithfield Foods and the city of Detroit are one thing, buying the venerable and influential New York Times is quite another.
The Times, founded and continuously published since 1851, is one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world. It has won more Pulitzer Prizes (112) than any other news organization, and its website is the most popular among all the nation’s newspapers. It maintains 27 bureaus within the United States and 26 foreign news bureaus, including outposts in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Chen, whose wealth is estimated at about US$740 million, told Reuters he had lined up an anonymous business partner in Hong Kong to help raise the US$1 billion or so he thinks is needed to buy the newspaper. “If we act in sincerity and good faith, I believe the Times chairman will change his way of thinking,” he said. “There’s nothing that can’t be bought for the right price.”
The Times’ market value is US$2.4 billion.
In a telephone interview with New York Times Shanghai bureau chief David Barboza, Chen said, “If I can get this deal with the New York Times, I will be able to bring more positive images and influence to contribute to world peace and make the world a better place.”
Despite the Times’ major presence in China, the paper’s English- and Chinese-language websites have both been blocked since late 2012 after it published an article about the hidden wealth of the relatives of then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. Many of its reporters have been unable to obtain visas to rejoin its team on the mainland.
Chen said he would work to repair the Times’ image in China, and also improve the paper’s understanding of the country.
“My plan for the New York Times if I get the deal will be putting the paper on every newsstand across the country and making the Times accessible to every Chinese household. China is such a big market and is too big to miss,” he said.
Chen, as crazy as rich people can get, is known for his publicity stunts. Among other things, he handed out cash to victims of China’s 2008 earthquake, bought cars for owners of Japanese vehicles damaged in anti-Japanese protests, handed out 5,000 free bicycles to urge people to ride bikes instead of drive, and sold “canned fresh air” to residents of smog-laden Beijing.
Last year, Chen paid for a half-page advertisement in the New York Times stating that an island chain at the center of a dispute with Japan had belonged to China since antiquity.
“After that, I realized that the Times’ influence all over the world is incredibly vast,” he said. “Every government and embassy, all around the world, pays attention to the New York Times.”
If his offer to buy the Times fails, Chen said he might put offers in to purchase CNN, the Washington Post—which was recently bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos—or the Wall Street Journal. “I’m still willing to consider buying lesser media outlets,” he said.
Shares in the New York Times Company jumped 4 percent to a five-year high on Monday, shortly after the businessman hinted at his plans in a speech in Shenzhen.