Agence France Press in Beijing
First he handed out cash to victims of China’s 2008 earthquake. Then he sold “canned fresh air” to residents of smog-ridden Beijing.
Now Chen Guangbiao, listed as one of China’s 400 richest people and a man known as much for his publicity stunts as his wealth, claims he is in talks to buy the New York Times.
“Soon, I will go to America to do three things,” Chen told a crowd Monday night at a news media award reception in the southern Chinese boom town of Shenzhen, according to the semi-official China News Service.
The first, he said, “is to go discuss the acquisition of the New York Times”.
Asked later to elaborate on his plans, Chen simply told reporters “the negotiation is currently underway”.
However, the publisher of the New York Times has previously denied it is up for sale.
“After a week in which both The Boston Globe and The Washington Post were purchased by new owners, the publisher of The New York Times emphatically declared … that the publication was not for sale,” the paper reported Arthur Sulzberger, who is also chairman of The New York Times Company, as saying in a statement in August.
Chen built his fortune, estimated at five billion yuan (HK$6.4 billion) by Chinese wealth publisher the Hurun Report, on a recycling company, Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilisation Group, but he has been derided by critics as a publicity hound who will go to great lengths for attention.
After anti-Japanese protests erupted in cities across China last year, Chen spent nearly US$800,000 on dozens of Chinese-made cars to give to people whose Japanese-brand cars were damaged.
Days ago, he posed in front of a wall made out of thousands of “bricks” made of banknotes.
But Chen has also won acclaim within China for his charitable giving. He has been honoured as China’s top philanthropist and has pledged to leave his entire fortune to charity after his death.
According to previous media reports, Chen spent US$30,000 on an advertisement in the New York Times in 2012 asserting Beijing’s territorial claim over a disputed group of East China Sea islands called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
Chen’s son ran another advertisement on the issue this August, and later that month Chen himself ran an ad in the paper calling on Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, not to visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo. Abe did so last week.
The New York Times published a report in 2012 detailing the vast wealth of former Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao’s family and its website has since been blocked in China, while several of its reporters have been unable to obtain visas to join its team on the mainland.
Chen’s claim to be in talks to purchase the New York Times comes months after another renowned American newspaper, the Washington Post, was bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecoms czar who is ranked by business magazine Forbes as the wealthiest man on the planet, loaned the Times US$250 million in 2009 “to help the newspaper company finance its businesses,” the paper reported.