Blair scoops up US$500,000 for trip to Dongguan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2007, 12:00am

He came, he saw and he made US$500,000 from a three-hour visit to a southern Chinese industrial city famous for its vanity.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair's quick trip to Dongguan , a Pearl River Delta city with a population of 7 million, probably marked only the beginning of a lucrative Blair Chinese roadshow, Guangdong media reported yesterday.

For his efforts, he was also promised a gift of a luxury villa worth more than 38 million yuan from Guangda, the city's top real estate company and sponsor of his trip, Guangzhou Daily cited company staff as saying.

Mr Blair arrived in Dongguan at 4.30pm on Tuesday and left at 7.30pm on a private jet. He spoke at a Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce dinner on Monday.

While in Dongguan, he obligingly swung by a luxury villa project developed by Guangda and gave a rousing speech entitled 'From Great to Outstanding', the Guangzhou Daily reported. It was a trademark Blair speech that combined hard-headed optimism with an almost evangelical commitment to fighting pollution, improving education and cultivating innovation.

Besides uttering platitudes like 'enhancing mutual understanding', the former British Labour Party leader did at least seem to have done his homework before collecting his fee - he reminisced about a 1987 visit to southern China, which in turn gave him good reasons for being in awe of the region's recent development. He also spoke about 'a soft spot' in his heart for China, with a sister-in-law who is Chinese and a seven-year-old son studying the language.

He charmed the crowd immediately by greeting them with a ni hao and sent the room into frenetic applause when he promised 'the sky is the limit' for the city, which houses the world's biggest shopping mall - the mainly deserted South China Mall.

About 600 people - various local dignitaries comprising senior politicians, investment bankers, private businessmen and some 100 VIP members of Guangda's luxury villa club - listened to his speech.

Even senior cadres from neighbouring regions such as Guangxi and Anhui flocked to the city for a glimpse of Mr Blair.

'Everyone in this room is either rich or important,' the newspaper quoted an event organiser as saying.

'He's just retired from office and he's still hot stuff,' the paper commented. 'We could only imagine this is just the beginning of a series of business activities in China.'

Local media also drew an unavoidable parallel between Mr Blair and former US president Bill Clinton in relation to speeches in southern China.

Mr Clinton, who has turned into a multimillion-dollar business on the global lecture circuit since he stepped down, raked in US$250,000 from a half-hour speech in Shenzhen in 2002.