Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

China's Donald Trump

Stay close to the government and distant from politics.

Wang Jianlin, a Billionaire at the Intersection of Business and Power in China
There are as many as 430 billionaires in China, more than in any country besides the United States. But Wang Jianlin stands out, and not just because he is the richest person in Asia…

Wang Jianlin
Prime ministers send him thank-you notes, and Hollywood’s biggest stars fly to China when he summons them. In March, at an event to woo foreign investors, he was one of only a dozen businessmen to meet President Obama…

He built one of the world’s most valuable real estate portfolios in a nation where the state retains ownership of all land…

Mr. Wang says he has prospered by delivering what ambitious party officials crave: showcase real estate developments that propel economic growth and bolster their careers. In return, he says, the officials sell him the rights to develop choice parcels of land at prices far below what his competitors pay…

But there is an aspect of his relationship with the authorities that Mr. Wang never raises in interviews… Relatives of some of the nation’s most powerful politicians and their business associates own significant stakes in his company…

Mr. Wang declined an interview request… But in public remarks, he often uses the same phrase to describe how he manages his relationship with the authorities: “Stay close to the government and distant from politics.”

“It’s a fact that China’s economy is government-led, and the real estate industry depends on approvals, so if you say you can ignore the government in this business, I’d say that’s impossible,” Mr. Wang told state television in a February interview. “I’d say it’s hypocritical and fake to say that. … But at the same time, for example, we don’t pay bribes.”…
One of Wang Jianlin's Wanda Plaza developments
Mr. Wang’s father was a veteran of the Communist Party’s Long March, the arduous and deadly trek across China in the 1930s by the Communists that hardened a generation of revolutionaries, and Mr. Wang himself, the eldest of five brothers, followed him into the army as a teenager…

He then spent the next 16 years rising through the officer ranks, an experience that colleagues say informs his management style…

After leaving the military, Mr. Wang took a government job in the northeastern port city of Dalian. His big break there came in 1988, when he was transferred to a failing state-owned builder of residential apartment blocks. By his own account, he secured a loan with the help of an old army buddy and returned the company to profitability.

In 1992, the firm was restructured as one of China’s first shareholding companies…

Because the state retains formal ownership of all land in China, those who want to build on it must have the state’s blessing. Local governments have depended for years on the sale of long-term rights to develop land to finance their operations. But who gets which parcels, and at what price, is as much a political decision as an economic one.

Mr. Wang says his company is so good at delivering benefits to the cities where it builds that local governments now compete for his business and he turns down more than two out of every three proposals…

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Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

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