Wenzhou tycoon's luxury fleet bid

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am

Wenzhou tycoon Huang Weijian has been a hot online topic on the mainland this month after spending more than 400 million yuan (HK$490 million) to buy and refurbish a luxury cruise ship formerly owned by casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun.

Huang, 40, who has renamed the former Asia Star as the China Star, said the cost was worth it.

'I and my partners will also raise two billion yuan to buy another four to five cruise ships soon,' he said. 'That means we will have the first cruise fleet on the mainland, able to carry thousands of passengers.'

Huang said he would seal deals for two other luxury cruise ships soon, one twice the size of the China Star. He said the China Star deal was a good example of the way Wenzhou entrepreneurs can expand their options amid the global economic downturn. 'It also helps rebuild the reputation of Wenzhou's rich,' he said.

In 2010, Wenzhou's city government said the city's private capital amounted to 600 billion yuan and would increase by 14 per cent a year. Mainland media say the actual figure now stands at between 800 billion and one trillion yuan.

Wenzhou people are known for their business acumen but have sometimes been criticised for being speculators and driving up prices.

'Acquiring a luxury cruise liner is really returning to a real economy,' Huang said. 'It will definitely win the support of the authorities. Since last year, Wenzhou capital has been encouraged to invest directly overseas.

'Now is a good time [for Chinese capital] to invest in overseas assets as the costs are much lower than before because of the current economic uncertainties.'

Wenzhou allows individual residents to invest up to 200 million yuan a year offshore. The Wenzhou government says the programme is meant to establish a regulated overseas investment channel for individuals and strengthen the government's ability to manage cross-border investment flows.

Built in Finland in 1992 at a cost of 250 million yuan, the 20,000-tonne China Star, originally named the Radisson Diamond, is a unique twin-hull ship with 172 staterooms that can carry 400 passengers. It became a gambling ship in Hong Kong in 2005.

'Now, though, she's begun a new life as the China Star, the flagship of our company, mainland China's first cruise line,' Huang said.

All the gambling tables have been removed. 'We will decorate it with antiques worth hundreds of million of yuan,' he said. 'Popular Chinese singers and artists will be invited to perform.'

Huang said the China Star would be a floating club for Chinese travellers and businessmen. It will also host forums and seminars and could be used for shooting television shows and staging beauty contests.

He said he was optimistic about the potential for China's luxury cruise market, with passenger numbers having almost quadrupled in four years.

The China Star will enter regular service in May, sailing between its new home port in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, and the ports of Kaohsiung and Keelung in Taiwan. The company is planning cruises to Japan, South Korea and Vietnam in the future and aims to expand its fleet over the next two years.

Another group of Wenzhou businessmen bought the former Sun Viking cruise ship, built in Finland for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in 1972. Renamed the Oriental Dragon, its first cruise last year was between Shanghai and Jeju in South Korea.

However, not all of Wenzhou's overseas forays have attracted positive publicity.

Earlier this month, Lin Chunping, a Wenzhou businessman, made headlines by claiming he had bought the '85-year-old Atlantic Bank of America in Delaware' for around US$60 million.

Local authorities praised Lin as a role model for Wenzhou's business spirit, calling him the first Chinese person to purchase an American bank.

However, he soon went from rising star to pariah after a Xinhua reporter investigated the acquisition in Delaware and found that the Atlantic Bank does not exist.