Britain best place to invest, says China's richest man

Linda Yueh
Chief business correspondent

Media caption,
WATCH: China's richest man says Britain is best place to invest

China's richest man has said that he considers the UK the best place in the world to invest.

Wang Jianlin, chair of China's largest property company, Dalian Wanda, said the UK had one of the most open markets and that investment was not subject to the same scrutiny as elsewhere.

Mr Wang told the BBC he was looking to invest $1bn (£667m) in the UK entertainment industry.

He is also considering buying an English or Italian football club.

"I've travelled to many countries to consider them for investment, and most admire Britain's market," he said.

"Britain has one of the highest degrees of free market openness, no investment needs to be scrutinised, it's entirely up to you."

He said that he likes the US as well but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US scrutinises investment and can block it.

He added that China needs to reform its own market.

Mr Wang is estimated to be worth $24.2bn and recently reclaimed the title of China's richest man, overtaking Jack Ma, the boss of e-commerce giant Alibaba, according to Forbes.

Media caption,
How rich are China's richest men?

Global portfolio

Mr Wang has already made some eye-catching investments around the world. He purchased Sunseeker, the British yacht maker for the James Bond films; AMC cinemas in the US; and the Swiss company InFront, which holds TV rights for the Fifa World Cup.

He revealed that he has been discussing an investment with London for the past year. It didn't come to fruition but he is still seeking to invest $1bn in the UK.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Wang said that he been approached by several English football clubs but the key factor when it came to buying one was the price. He has already acquired a 20% stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid.

When asked if he was concerned about the possibility of the UK leaving the EU after a potential upcoming referendum, he said that he wasn't.

"I don't think it is a big problem for me whether the UK is in the EU or not. It is a problem between the UK and Europe. The UK is relatively independent in the EU at present. It does not use the euro."

China needs reform

When it comes to his home market, Mr Wang believes that China will open up more over time. He points out that because of the dominance of state-owned firms, the market isn't open enough for private Chinese, as well as for foreign firms, and needs reform.

"I think China's market should be more open. Maybe China is not as open as the UK or USA at present. It is probably because we are relatively backward in some respects," he said.

Mr Wang also expects China to undertake the privatisation of land. He sees it as the only way to resolve the debt problems confronting local governments.

He says that they owe 20 trillion yuan (£2.1tn; $3.2tn) of debt and do not generate enough revenue to pay it down, so he sees the only solution as allowing land to be privately sold.

When asked if he was certain that the central government would go for this radical move, since land in China is essentially state-owned, he said that he was convinced that it would happen.

If so, that would be a big step in the opening up of China's market and would certainly benefit property developers who can currently only own leaseholds and jointly develop projects on land owned by local governments.

For more, listen to Six Routes to Riches on Saturday, 14 March on BBC World Service and Marketplace in the US, or watch Talking Business with Linda Yueh.