Space Programme

Star man?

Man behind Nicaragua canal heads for space

Chinese telecom tycoon Wang speaks during an interview with Reuters in Xinwei Telecom's headquarters in Beijing

Into orbit? Wang Jing’s career

As career paths go, you might wonder how a graduate in Chinese traditional medicine got into the business of launching satellites. Indeed, what do prescribing rhubarb root and cinnabar have to do with building a deepwater port in Crimea or constructing a $40 billion canal in Nicaragua?

Then again, Wang Jing’s is no cookie-cutter career. And fascination with his rapid climb is growing as journalists struggle to piece together his background (see WiC230).

Wang was back in the spotlight this month when his firm Xinwei Telecom announced that it had developed China’s first low-orbit communications satellites in conjunction with Tsinghua University. Wang plans to launch 32 of them within five years.

According to Southern Weekend that news helped the “mysterious” businessman’s firm climb to a market cap of Rmb112 billion ($18.3 billion). Insofar as the A-share market is concerned, no other privately-held technology company has a bigger value, the newspaper said.

Xinwei got a further boost when the Shanghai-Hong Kong “through- train” investment scheme launched this Monday. The Financial Times noted that Wang’s firm was one of those making large gains on the first day, signalling that this well-connected company may be on the radar for foreign investors too.

But Southern Weekend thinks there is something odd about Wang’s latest foray. It points out that satellite communications is a “highly regulated” field and normally the preserve of state-affiliated entities. So it questions why a private firm like Xinwei has been able to enter the industry.

One potential answer? Industry insiders believe Wang’s corporate success is heavily linked to his stellar government connections. Of the few details that have emerged on his background here’s what we know. He was born in December 1972 and graduated from the Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He subsequently served as president of a health promotion school in Beijing, before going to Hong Kong to study international finance. He set up an investment advisory firm in 1998 and is purported to have made a fortune in gold mines and gem trading in Cambodia and Thailand.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Wang’s profile began to rise in China’s corporate world. That year he bought a controlling stake in Xinwei, a lossmaking telecoms equipment business. After winning a spate of new contracts (the 4G network in Cambodia was one of them) the losses were rapidly reversed. By 2013 the firm was making a profit of Rmb1.7 billion and Xinwei made its stockmarket debut in Shanghai via one of the biggest backdoor listings on the A-share market.

Wang has told the press he didn’t come from a privileged background (he says his father was an ordinary worker who died in 2010). However, Sohu Finance is one of a number of media outlets to query whether Wang can be quite as ordinary as he makes out. Tellingly, Sohu notes that the exhibition hall at Xinwei’s HQ is festooned with photos of visiting political leaders. The interest seems mutual, Sohu suggests, claiming: “We can say that our national leaders are quite concerned about the development of Xinwei.” Sohu also touches on the firm’s militaristic ethos, describing how its head office contains paintings of the Red Army leadership, as well as photos of an array of Chinese weaponry. Each morning the company tannoy plays ‘March of the People’s Liberation Army’ and in the afternoon it strikes up ‘Return from the Shooting Range’.

When the New Yorker wrote about Wang – focusing on his contract to build a Nicaraguan canal linking the Pacific and the Atlantic – it was also of the view that Xinwei was not a typical private sector firm. A former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US told the magazine that when a group of top Nicaraguan businessmen went with Wang on a tour of five Chinese cities, they had initially thought his talk about financing the waterway was bluster. But after meeting Party chiefs they had “little doubt that Wang was supported by the Chinese state”.

Yet even if Xinwei’s exact status remains tough to fathom, investors in Wang’s company are clearly quite bullish on its prospects. Over the past year Xinwei’s share price has almost doubled.

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