Iceland Debates Land Sale to Chinese Tycoon

Large tract could offer Beijing foothold in North Atlantic

A Chinese tycoon has already won private landowner agreements in the proposed purchase of a massive tract of land in Iceland that critics worry could provide Beijing with a presence in the North Atlantic.

The Financial Times reported late Monday that Huang Nubo, a former government official who is now a real estate investor, is seeking Icelandic governmental approval of the purchase of a tract of land that amounts to 0.3% of the country’s total area. The 300 square kilometers (115.83 square miles) of land in northeast Iceland, known as Grímsstadir á Fjöllum, is intended for a $100 million tourism project, an ecotourism resort and golf course.

Opponents question the need for so much land and point out that Iceland is in a location that would be strategically important for Asian cargo should Arctic waters be opened through climate change to shipping. The land, while not coastal, is in proximity to a deepwater port and contains one of Iceland’s largest glacial rivers. Huang has sought to reassure Icelanders by saying that he would renounce all rights to water running through the land.

Ögmundur Jónasson, the Icelandic interior minister, expressed concern, and was quoted in the report saying, “China has been very active in buying up land around the world so we need to be aware of the international ramifications.” Jónasson will be responsible for the final decision.

The country is anxious to welcome foreign investment in the wake of its banking crisis in 2008. However, while Iceland’s foreign ministry said in the report that it “welcomed foreign investment and strengthening of tourism,” it also warned that a thorough study would be necessary before the project could proceed.

Huang is ranked by Forbes as Chinas 16th richest man, and his company, Zhongkun Group, owns resorts and tourist facilities throughout China. He formerly worked at China’s Central Propaganda Department and at the Ministry of Construction, but describes himself as a poet and adventurer. Those who know him well say that he is interested in Iceland by a love of nature, not from political motivations.

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