China’s wealthy class may be known for setting records in conspicious consumption (one of our favourites at WiC is the woman who paid $586,000 for a Tibetan Mastiff dog).
But at least a small section of the fraternity has something more serious on its minds.
Sixteen business leaders including Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Fosun’s Guo Guangchang have got together to try and preserve an important part of China’s shrinking wilderness. Their plan is to create what could be the country’s first privately held nature reserve in the Xuebaoding and Motian mountain ranges of northern Sichuan. That is, if they can get the nod from local government.
The tycoons are committing Rmb50 million ($7.6 million) to start with. Their ‘Sichuan Nature Conservation Foundation’ hopes to take stewardship of 100,000 hectares of forest in one of the most biologically diverse areas in Asia – home to endangered animals like the Giant Panda and the Golden Snub-nosed Monkey.
The idea is to set a benchmark for other parks, and the Foundation will partner with US-based NGO The Nature Conservancy to try to make that happen.
“They will face suspicion and challenges,” warns Southern Weekly. “Nature reserves have always been the government’s business.” According to the magazine, all the other nature reserves in the country are government-run.
Cynics might predict the park will end up hosting a biologically-diverse golf course. Zhang Shuang, who is leading the project, denies it. “If [the businessmen] wanted to develop the land they wouldn’t have bothered doing all this work,” Zhang insists. “They could just go talk to the county governor”.
In fact, the dangers of development come from elsewhere. “We don’t want to do business,” worries The Nature Conservancy China staffer Jiang Jidong, “but the local government has plans for ecological tourism in Xuebaoding.”
Southern Weekly estimates that around half the funds needed to run the parks has to be generated by the parks themselves, which often involves compromising their original mission.
That’s one reason why this group of billionaires thinks their foundation can do a better job. But in the end, even they may have to compromise a little. “We agreed to arrange commercial construction outside the protected areas and bring in some good low-density international eco-resort companies,” explained Jiang. But he said the Foundation will have a monitoring and ecological advisory role.
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