One-time Communist soldier turned mogul is now China’s richest man

‘Forbes’ magazine crowns billionaire Wang Jianlin - owner of the world’s largest cinema chain

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The Independent Online

He is a property magnate who can count the world’s largest cinema chain amongst his business interests, in addition to dozens of shopping centres and five-star hotels.

Now Wang Jianlin can add another accolade befitting his billionaire status – he has been named China’s richest man by Forbes.

The 58-year-old Sichuan native, whose Dalian Wanda Group conglomerate this summer acquired a 92 per cent stake the luxury British yacht manufacturer Sunseeker, whose boats have appeared in a number of James Bond films, is worth £8.9bn, the influential publication said.

Wanda, a private company with interests in everything from real estate to retail to film production, acquired the American AMC movie theatre chain last year for £1.66bn, and Wang owns over nine million square metres of investment property.

The company is building a £700m high-rise hotel project in London, on the River Thames in Wandsworth which will include a 660ft-tall tower of luxury apartments and a 530ft-tall five-star hotel with 160 rooms.

Founded in 1988, Wanda has assets of £30.6bn and an annual income of £14.7bn. It operates 71 Wanda plazas, 38 five-star hotels, 6,000 cinema screens, 57 department stores and 63 karaoke outlets across the country. Wang has a background in the People’s Liberation Army, in which he served from 1970 to 1986.

He joined the Communist Party in 1976 and has been a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top parliamentary advisory body since 2008.

As well as overseas projects, Wang believes the Chinese economy is going to keep growing strongly because the mammoth process of migration from the countryside to the cities and he sees a key role for Wanda in this urbanisation project. While more than half of the population currently live in the cities, this figure is set to rise further.

“By 2020 China’s goal is to reach 70 per cent of the population in cities, another 200 million people entering the cities,” he told a forum in Chengdu earlier this year.

“They need jobs, they need a house, an apartment, they need to go to movies, they need to eat.  So it’s a huge market there. Therefore I believe China’s market to be maintained at a high growth rate, eight per cent, slightly slower, slightly higher, but I think we still will have about 20 years of this type growth rate,” he said.

One of his key goals is to become a major player in the culture industry, which the ruling Communist Party has identified as a “pillar industry”.

He expects annual revenues of 80 billion yuan (€8.3bn) from Wanda’s cultural business.

China is keen to boost its “soft power” around the world, and what could fit this ambition better than a giant media organisation running cinemas and showing popular films while backed with lots of cash from the property market.

Wanda’s film company Wanda Media has been involved with actor Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut Man of Tai Chi, Police Story 2013 with Jackie Chan and The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven 3D with Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-fat.

The strength of the property market in China saw his fortune soar from £5bn last year, when he was in third place, and he is now worth nearly £2bn more than last year’s title-holder Zong Qinghou, China’s biggest homegrown beverage entrepreneur, Forbes said.

China’s wealthiest tycoons are still worth far less than the global hyper-rich, such as Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, who topped the rankings with an estimated fortune of £46.5bn, while Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was second with £42.7bn.