A mainland tycoon says he is serious about buying The New York Times and wants to work on "rebuilding its credibility and influence" by reforming its award-winning coverage of China.
Chen Guangbiao, listed as one of China's 400 richest people, penned an op-ed in the state-run Global Times newspaper yesterday headlined: "I intend to buy The New York Times, please don't take it as a joke".
"The tradition and style of The New York Times make it very difficult to have objective coverage of China," Chen wrote. "If we could purchase it, its tone might turn around. Therefore I have been involved in discussing acquisition-related matters with like-minded investors."
The New York Times has published several award-winning reports on China, including a 2012 investigation into the family wealth of then-premier Wen Jiabao that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
The paper's website has been blocked ever since on the mainland, the world's second-biggest economy, and several of its reporters have had difficulty obtaining visas. Chen added that if he succeeded he "will conduct some necessary reforms, the ultimate goal of which is to make the paper's reports more authentic and objective, thus rebuilding its credibility and influence".
Last week, Chen said at an event in Shenzhen that he planned to travel to the US "to go discuss the acquisition" of the paper, a remark that many dismissed as the wealthy entrepreneur's latest play for attention.
Four days later, Chen was spotted by a Chinese Business News reporter at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
A newspaper spokeswoman said last week the company had "no information" about any negotiations with Chen.
Chen built his fortune, estimated at 5 billion yuan (HK$6.35 million), on the recycling company Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilisation Group. But he has been derided by critics as a publicity hound who will go to lengths for attention.
In the past, he has sold "canned fresh air" to residents of smog-ridden Beijing.
In his op-ed, Chen wrote that he had "persuaded a Hong Kong entrepreneur to contribute US$600 million to this cause" of buying the paper, whose parent company is listed on Wall Street and has a market capitalisation of more than US$2 billion.
"I have said as long as the price is reasonable, there is nothing that cannot be bought," he wrote.
He said he first had the idea of purchasing the newspaper when he placed an ad in it in 2012 asserting Beijing's sovereignty over the disputed Diaoyus Islands, known as the Senkakus by Japan.