Growing breed of Chinese moguls Down Under

PHOTO: Growing breed of Chinese moguls Down Under

SYDNEY - When a rare chance arose to buy a World Heritage-listed resort island in the Great Barrier Reef last year, Australian-Chinese media mogul William Han decided to invest in paradise.

"Aussie Bill", as he is known, outbid 200 others for the 584ha Lindeman Island off the coast of Queensland from Club Med, shelling out A$12 million (S$15.3 million) for it. He now plans to spend another A$500 million at least to turn it into a high-end resort for Asian holidaymakers.

Mr Han is one of a growing breed of Chinese-Australian moguls, several of whom are on China's top 1,000 rich list compiled by the Hurun Report magazine.

Shanghai-based property mogul Xu Rongmao was ranked No. 12 last year with an estimated worth of US$4.7 billion (S$5.8 billion). An Australian citizen, he has invested in properties in Sydney and Darwin and educated both his children in Australia.

Mr Han, who is not even on the Hurun list, is also a Chinese-born Australian citizen.

He will promote the Lindeman resort in China on the tens of thousands of billboards and numerous television stations owned by his giant White Horse Group.

The head of the group's Australian holdings, Mr Paul Nyholt, said Mr Han remains based in China, but "is very passionate about Australia and about doing business there". "He is a regular visitor... He is friendly with state and federal politicians," he said.

Shanghai-based mogul and Australian citizen Ye Lipei, who was once a humble grocery deliverer in Australia, is worth US$2.7 billion and ranks 35th on the Hurun list.

Australia has more links to China's tycoons than any other country except the United States, according to the compiler of the Hurun list.

"The (billionaires) are based in China, with a toe in the water in Australia - some real estate, perhaps children at school or university, and the odd investment," observed journalist and seasoned China watcher Colleen Ryan in the Australian Financial Review in 2011. "This country is a possible retirement destination but, more likely, it provides some insurance - a get-out-of-China card, should one ever be needed. Nevertheless, they have economic firepower and Australia is in their sights."

The moguls tend to fly under the radar in Australia since most live in China and come to Australia for business trips or to visit family.

Mr Han, for instance, does not own a house in Australia, but will probably build a home for his family on a corner of Lindeman Island, according to Mr Nyholt.

Perhaps the most prominent tycoon is Dr Zhou Zerong, known in Australia as Dr Chau Chak Wing. The Guangdong-based property mogul ranks 73rd on the Hurun list and is worth US$1.9 billion. Nearly 200,000 people live in his apartments in Guangzhou.

In 2011, the Crikey news website labelled Dr Zhou as one of Australia's most powerful people.

Now a citizen, he has donated more than A$2 million to political parties. He is reportedly close to Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who hired his daughter Winky Chow as an adviser when he was the New South Wales premier.

Dr Zhou also owns the Australian New Express Daily, one of Australia's biggest Chinese-language papers.

His main residence in Guangzhou has a private museum that is shaped like an ancient bronze cauldron and houses more than 20,000 Chinese treasures, including a 25-piece throne set that belonged to 18th century Qing dynasty emperor Qian Long.

Australian guests to the museum have included former prime ministers Bob Hawke, John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

He also donated more than A$20 million for a new building at the University of Technology in Sydney, where his son studied architecture.

"Money can't always buy happiness but, as property developer and newspaper tycoon Chau Chak Wing has learnt, it can help give you remarkable access to Australia's most powerful politicians," Crikey said.

Perhaps another prominent Chinese-Australian mogul is Mr Zeng Wei, 45, the son of Mr Zeng Qinghong, a former vice-president of China who reportedly helped install new Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Like many wealthy Chinese Australians, the younger Mr Zeng, a businessman, tries to keep a low profile, but that changed when he spent more than A$32 million on an iconic house on Australia's most expensive street. Now that Sydney residence has become a prime stop - for tour buses with Chinese tourists.

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