By DIDI TANG
BEIJING (AP) â¿¿ The Chinese businessman hired to plan and perhaps build a Nicaraguan rival to the Panama Canal said the ambitious project is backed by experienced consultants and is not a joke, turning away skepticism that he can deliver the $40 billion shipping channel.
"We don't want it to become an international joke, and we don't want it to turn into an example of Chinese investment failures," Wang Jing, chairman and owner of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, told a news conference Tuesday in Beijing.
Wang, 40, whose business history prior to 2010 is virtually unknown, received approval from Nicaragua's government earlier this month for HKND to study, and possibly build and run a shipping channel across the Central American country. Some Nicaraguan lawmakers and residents have expressed reservations about the company's competence, given that this appears to be its first attempt to engineer any significant infrastructure project.
Wang said early assessments of the project have been favorable, taking into account future economic growth of the U.S. and China as well as the enormous Chinese appetite for mineral resources from Latin America.
"The world trade has been so developed today that it needs a new canal," Wang said. "The Panama Canal is not enough for the trade conducted currently between East and West."
He said return from the project "is sure to make every investor smile broadly."
Wang said his consultants on the project have rich experience and include U.S.-based McKinsey & Co. and China's biggest construction firm, the state-owned China Railway Construction Corp.
He said his team is proposing ways to minimize risk, for example by routing the canal through the middle of Nicaragua to avoid any potential border dispute with neighboring Costa Rica. Wang said he hopes to deliver the feasibility report a year from now, and that the project would break ground by the end of 2014 and be completed in less than six years.