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Zhang Xin, the Chinese tycoon seven times richer than the Queen, set to buy America's most expensive office tower


One of China's richest women is set to buy America's most expensive office tower.

As Chinese investors in the US real estate market continue to increase in number, a group led by Zhang Xin, CEO of the Beijing-based property firm SOHO China, is reportedly nearing a deal for a 40 per cent stake in New York's General Motors building, which would value the skyscraper at an estimated $3.4bn (£2.3bn).

Ms Zhang, 47, is one of the wealthiest self-made women in China; her company is Beijing and Shanghai's biggest commercial property developer. In 2010, Forbes magazine named her in a list of the world's 10 self-made women billionaires. With a net worth of approximately $3.6bn, she is around seven times richer than the Queen.

Born in 1965, during China's Cultural Revolution, Ms Zhang was brought up in poverty in Beijing by a single mother. Aged 14, she moved to Hong Kong to work on the assembly line in a clothing factory. Some five years later, she had saved sufficient funds for a flight to the UK, where she studied at Cambridge University before taking up a job at investment bank Goldman Sachs in New York.

In 1995, having returned to China, she founded an office real estate company with her new husband, Pan Shiyi. A decade later, SOHO China was the largest such firm in the country. In 2012, its profits were to 3.34bn yuan (£360m), double those of the previous year.

Ms Zhang and her husband are part of a growing crowd of Chinese investors in the US real estate market, a craze that has been compared to the Japanese boom of the 1980s, which saw New York's celebrated Rockefeller Centre sold to Tokyo's Mitsubishi Estate Company in 1989.

The couple already owns an apartment close to Central Park, and in 2011 bought a 49 per cent stake in another Manhattan tower, Park Avenue Plaza, for a reported $600m. According to The Wall Street Journal, Ms Zhang is bidding for a stake in the GM Building personally, without the involvement of SOHO China.

The 705ft-tall (215m), white marble tower at the south-east corner of Central Park commands some of the highest office rents in Manhattan; its 1.8m sq ft are home to the flagship FAO Schwarz toy shop, and a major Apple Store. Built by the US car manufacturer GM in 1968, it was at one time owned by Donald Trump.

The skyscraper was last purchased by Boston Properties and a group of Middle Eastern investors in 2008, for $2.8bn, still the highest price ever paid for a single office building.