Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Does Chinese Plutocrat Want to Build Golf Resort In Remote Part of Iceland?

A Chinese billionaire wants to build a luxury resort hotel and golf course in a remote part of Iceland, a part of Iceland that is often "a barren expanse of snow" and that is "even for Icelanders ... a particularly desolate spot."

Why?

The simplest explanation is this: Because. Because Huang Nubo, the billionaire in question, likes solitude, likes golf, and has oodles of money sitting around burning holes in his pockets.

That's the explanation offered by Huang and spokespersons for his company, who say that Huang envisions an "eco golf course for wealthy Chinese seeking clean air and solitude. ... 'there is market demand in China' for peace and quiet. 'Most Chinese now don’t like to travel to dirty, noisy places.' "

But others - officials in Iceland, government officials in the United States - are wary of Huang's motives, and suspicions exist that the Chinese government is involved and up to no good. Those are fueled by the fact that Huang is a onetime government apparatchik, a former propaganda official in the Chinese Communist Party.

The New York Times reported all this in a recent article. Some highlights:

GRIMSSTADIR, Iceland — Struggling to stand upright against a howling wind, Bragi Benediktsson looked out over his family’s land — a barren expanse of snow and ice that a Chinese billionaire wants to turn into a golf course — and laughed. “Golf here is difficult,” said Mr. Benediktsson, a 75-year-old sheep farmer.

... “It never seemed a very convincing business plan,” said Iceland’s interior minister, Ogmundur Jonasson, who last year rejected a request that Mr. Huang be exempted from Icelandic laws that restrict foreign ownership of land. “I put many questions and got no answers,” the minister added.

Prodded by diplomats from the United States and other countries to take a hard look at Mr. Huang’s intentions, Mr. Jonasson questioned what might lie behind China's curious interest in Grimsstadir. “One has to look at this from a geopolitical perspective and ask about motivations,” Mr. Jonasson said.

... Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson said that he saw no reason to block Mr. Huang's hotel venture, which is expected to cost more than $100 million, but that he was puzzled by Mr. Huang’s desire to build a high-end resort in a place so isolated that "you can almost hear ghosts dancing in the snow." As for playing golf, Mr. Skarphedinsson added, "that doesn’t seem very sensible."

Such bafflement has stirred much speculation about what the Chinese tycoon and perhaps the Chinese authorities are up to. A proposal by the Zhongkun Group to renovate a small landing strip in the Grimsstadir area and buy 10 aircraft led to anxious talk of a Chinese air base. The area's relative proximity to deep fjords on Iceland’s northeast coast near offshore oil reserves fueled speculation about a Chinese push for a naval facility and access to the Arctic’s bountiful supplies of natural resources. Far-fetched rumors about Chinese missiles and listening posts led to worries about military personnel pouring in disguised as hoteliers and golf caddies.

We live in a time when silly conspiracies are de rigueur. But talk of a Chinese air base in Iceland is absurd. Iceland is a member of NATO (not to mention technically part of the North American continent). A Chinese golf resort that morphed over time into a Chinese air base wouldn't be a construction project, it would be an invansion. It's nuts to even give that idea consideration.

That's like saying that Donald Trump's building of a golf resort on the Scotland coast is cover for a United States invasion of Scotland. I bet many Scots feel as though they've been invaded by the execrable Donald Trump, but that's a different story.

Could a Chinese golf resort in Iceland be cover for a spy mission, a mission to secretly monitor U.S. activities from a nearby base? That's much more plausible.

Probably more plausible than the idea of Chinese tourists (or any other tourists) flocking to a frozen golf course in northeast Iceland.

But perhaps not as plausible as a billionaire being a little nutty and coming up with outlandish ways to spend his money. My own money is on this resort never getting built.

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