Sun Guangxin, chairman of Guanghui Industry Investment and dubbed as “Xinjiang’s richest man”, has a few things in common with Rabiya Kadeer, previously thought to be the wealthiest woman in Xinjiang. Both rose from humble origins, riding on Beijing’s efforts to modernise the area. Both have tamed parts of Xinjiang’s rough geography into massive property portfolios. But the big difference is that Kadeer, a former legislator and erstwhile exemplar of China’s multi-ethnic harmony, is in exile. Sun has proven far better at cultivating his political connections.
Sun was born in 1962 in Urumqi, where his Shandong-native father was working as a cobbler. He joined the People’s Liberation Army straight out of school but left before he was 30, starting his own business in 1989. According to James Millward’s Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang, Sun’s seed money included a $400 demobilisation reimbursement and reportedly a $50,000 loan secured via a Japanese cotton deal.
Sun’s first success, like Kadeer’s, was setting up restaurants. But he got his next big idea at the dining tables of his eateries. Many of his higher-rolling customers were oilmen and officials, and Sun began to develop contacts in an oil industry that would become Xinjiang’s economic driving force. He started trading oil exploration equipment and parts and by 1992 his 17-person firm accounted for one sixth of oil equipment trades in Xinjiang.
Sun expanded into real estate in 1993, building some of the tallest buildings in Urumqi. His company Guanghui Industry remains the biggest developer in Xinjiang as well as the biggest privately-controlled energy firm, with upstream assets in natural gas and oil exploration.
As Sun’s enterprises grew, he employed many former senior army officers within company ranks. In the Communist Party organisation set up within the company, he also let other Party member enjoy positions senior to his own (Sun only became the Party secretary at the company in 2011). Forbes now ranks Sun at 14th in its latest China Rich List with a net worth of $4 billion. His personal fortune would be bigger, had he not distributed 25% of Guanghui’s equity to other senior management.
Need to know
Sun once described himself as a workaholic akin to “a donkey welded to a stone grinder”.
But he also spends much of his spare time these days on calligraphy and collecting fine Chinese art.
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