“In 2004, we were near a water reservoir outside Hongcun and saw the surroundings were so good that we should make them into a hotel resort.” Everyone at the moment seemed delighted that Zhongkun 中坤 chairman Huang Nubo 黄怒波 fancied the place so much, and the local authorities promptly provided all the approvals to let Zhongkun build a tourist resort there. They started building it, but then a drought came and the reservoir (Lake Qishu 奇墅 in Yi 黟 county, Anhui) was declared a source of drinking water, which implied construction couldn’t proceed on its shores without additional environmental permits. “That would bring a lot of trouble. Just as if we’d already got our marriage certificate and children had been born, and then you suddenly took the certificate away or announced it’s invalid. Tell me, should I go and sue the government?” The new people at the local government are also quite worried about the issue and are trying to think up a way out. Such constant changes to regulations are just “too absurd”.
Huang Nubo was referring, during an interview with Phoenix Finance (凤凰财经), to media reports about the Hongcun resort, which as of last month seemed to be defying a government order to stop operation and construction issued in January. The story first appeared on China Business Journal (中国经营报) in early September, and reached the Nordic news through an article by Ægir Þór Eysteinsson published last week on Icelandic online weekly Kjarninn, a rare case of Nordic media drawing on Chinese-language sources. Since then, it has also spread to Norwegian media, interested in Huang following his purchase of a 100 ha property in Lyngen.
Government sources interviewed for the Chinese article seem to justify Huang’s complaints. The rediscovery of lake Qishu as an important water source in need of environmental protection seems to have happened only in 2009, well after Huang’s project had been approved. Huang is at any rate not alone in noting the unpredicability and fuzziness of Chinese regulations, especially at the local level. Since the tourist resort is already partially in operation, the plan seems to be to pump away any waste it generates so it doesn’t go into the lake, rather than closing it permanently.
Huang doesn’t have anything too specific to say about some other issues, arguably more serious, reported by China Business Journal (and also reflected in the Icelandic and Norwegian articles): that a Zhongkun group company misused misused funds from an ICBC loan, resulting in an investigation by the Huangshan branch of the Chinese Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC, 中国银行业监督管理委员会). There’s also the allegation that the company’s worth was grossly overreported in order to apply for bank loans. In the Phoenix interview, Huang admits that the CBRC investigation exists, but doesn’t have much to comment beyond assuring that all the funds meant for the Hongcun investment were indeed invested there.
Finally, we have the headline-worthy fact that Huang Nubo and Zhongkun have made it into what I’m calling a ‘fine-dodger blacklist’, and which a loosely Peking University-affiliated legal database more colourfully translates as the “List of Dishonest Persons subject to Enforcement” (失信被执行人名单). The list, published by the Supreme People’s Court since last year, includes people and companies that have failed to honour effective verdicts and Zhongkun and Huang are indeed in it since late July. I found them yesterday on page 2900-something, and today they might have sunk a bit deeper since entries are seemingly added at a rate of over a dozen a day.
Huang’s inclusion in The List is prominently mentioned by the Chinese and Nordic articles, but it had already been making the rounds on the Chinese Internet since at least August.
I often write about Huang Nubo, everybody’s favourite poet-tycoon-mountaineer.