Date
25 September 2017
Wang Jianlin interacted little with the media during a trip to Britain this week, prompting speculation that he wants to avoid uncomfortable questions related to his business empire. Photo: HKEJ
Wang Jianlin interacted little with the media during a trip to Britain this week, prompting speculation that he wants to avoid uncomfortable questions related to his business empire. Photo: HKEJ

What is China’s richest man afraid of?

There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and this should give comfort to China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin.

The 61-year-old chairman of Dalian Wanda Group became the first mainland Chinese to make it to Forbes’ top 20 list with a personal net worth of US$28.7 billion, according to the magazine’s latest report on the world’s richest individuals.

This week is also significant for Wang after the Hollywood movie “Spotlight” won the Oscar for best picture.

The film about a newspaper’s dogged investigation into pedophiles in the Catholic Church was produced by Open Road, a subsidiary of AMC Entertainment, now the world’s largest cinema chain which Wang acquired in 2012 when he embarked on an overseas spending spree.

However, despite all the accolades, Wang appears to be shying away from the publicity.

He traveled this week to Britain to promote his English-language book “The Wanda Way”, but the media coverage he got was not exactly to his liking.

During an encounter with the press, Wang was quizzed about rumors that Chinese leader Xi Jin-ping’s brother-in-law was one of Wanda’s shareholders.

According to the Sunday Times, Wang offered a considerate, albeit baffling, answer: “For your good sake, I prefer not to answer this question, otherwise your article cannot be circulated in China. And it’s to protect you, to be safe in China.”

Wang invited a selected group of journalists to his book launch at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, but they were assigned at the back seats and told they could not ask questions.

According to James Kynge of the Financial Times, his limited dealings with the press contrasted with his image of a gregarious billionaire belting out a rock song on stage and hobnobbing with Hollywood A-listers at a corporate function.

His low-key stance came after his visit to the Harvard University last year, during which he acknowledged, when challenged by a professor, that President Xi’s sister Qi Qiaoqiao (齊橋橋) and her husband Deng Jiagui (鄧家貴) had owned stakes in Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties before its initial public offering in 2014.

He stressed, however, that the two had sold their shares before the company went public and thus were not able to benefit from it.

The public relations agency working for Wang told the Financial Times that the tycoon’s little interaction with the press had nothing to do with the sensitive revelations last year about his business dealings with the family of President Xi.

According to the PR firm, “he has cut down a lot but that is primarily due to his extremely busy schedule. He truly works over 13 hours a day, seven days a week and 30 days a month.”

During his UK visit, Wang told the press of his plan to launch a big project in Britain, similar to his plan to build a 3 billion euro (US$3.26 billion) theme park on the outskirts of Paris.

Indeed, Wang’s interests overseas are diverse, ranging from prestigious properties (from Edificio España in Spain to the Nine Elms development on the banks of the River Thames in London) to football team Atletico Madrid and luxury yacht builder Sunseeker.

With such vast holdings, China’s richest man surely cannot just play hide-and-seek with the press.

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BK/JP/CG

EJ Insight writer

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