Wang Jing, a 40-year-old Chinese telecommunications billionaire, has emerged as the next mogul to give it a go. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who fought the U.S.-backed contras in the 1980s, signed a 50-year concession on June 14 that grants Wang’s HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND) rights to develop a $40 billion project that includes a canal, an oil pipeline, two deepwater ports, an interoceanic railroad, and two airports.Apart from his youth, question marks surround whether a telecoms guy knows anything about infrastructure development. Certainly there is no lack of such projects in the PRC--it just so happens that Wang has no experience with any of them. So obscure is this guy that the Nicaraguan leader even described him as a "ghost" during the signing ceremony:
Wang, whose HKND Group launched its website just days prior to the concession signing, is relatively unknown. “Why Wang Jing?” asks Margaret Myers, China and Latin America program director of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research group. “He has no experience in canals or large infrastructure projects. He is a telecommunications guy in China.”
Wang is chairman of more than 20 enterprises in 35 countries, including Beijing Xinwei Telecom Technology, according to the website. He’ll be owner and chief executive officer of HKND, which describes itself as an international infrastructure developer that will design, build, and operate the canal, its first project. “Here is the ghost,” Ortega said when Wang appeared to sign the concession on June 14. “He’s flesh and bone.”Still, there is a commercial oportunity here insofar as cargo ships become larger and larger. Pretty soon, the Panama Canal may no longer be able to handle all the volume passing through:
The project comes as Panama prepares to finish a $5.25 billion expansion of its 99-year-old canal. On June 20, Honduras announced plans to work with a Chinese company on an Atlantic-to-Pacific railroad to boost trade across the Central American isthmus. “I think it is the right time now given the expanded ship sizes out there,” says Bill Wild, a former deputy CEO of Australia-based contractor Leighton Holdings (LEI:AU) and HKND’s chief project adviser. “Even the Panama Canal can’t come close to handling the big ships being built.” The Panama Canal Authority refutes this.Despite the understandable scepticism, it will be interesting to watch whether this is a work of genius or a boondoggle on the part of the Nicaraguans in placing their bets on an unknown quantity.
UPDATE: It seems Ortega and Wang have already disagreed in public over the canal's route. Once more, I am not so optimistic about it coming true since so many grand plans to build this canal have been mooted over several decades.