Chinese investor now eyes Lyngen

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A controversial Chinese investor who first tried to buy up major portions of Iceland has expanded his sights in northern Norway. Huang Nubo, a billionaire believed to have close ties to the Chinese government, reportedly is in the process of buying up around 250 acres of waterfront land in scenic Lyngen.

The spectacular scenery of Northern Norway didn't manage to attract nearly as many tourists this summer as it did last year, with overnight stays down 15 percent in July. Here, the Lyngen Alps east of Tromsø. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The spectacular scenery of Northern Norway has attracted one of China’s wealthiest investors the area near the Lyngen Alps, east of Tromsø. Warnings have gone out over Huang Nubo’s projects and intentions, though. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Ola OK Giæver Jr of Giæver Invest presented plans on Friday that he said he and his company have with Zhongkun Investment Group (ZK), which is headed by Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo. The land in question is located at Seljevik in Troms County with views to the Lyngen Alps, which have emerged in recent years as a prime destination for adventurous skiers and hikers.

The scenic area already attracts affluent tourists from around the world. Giæver, a pilot and investor who recently was part of the group that bought domestic airline Widerøe from SAS, wants to sell a large chunk of land near Lyngseidet that already is zoned for business and tourism use. Plans call for construction of a high-end resort that would attract wealthy Chinese tourists.

“We’re talking about tourism of a quality we haven’t seen in Norway before,” said project leader Kurt Arild Larsen. “We’ve been looking for the right person to develop this real estate and we feel we have found him now. He has expressed a desire to buy property in Lyngen.” No details about prices or the value of the potential investment were revealed.

Warnings issued
The prospective deal comes just a day after the former head of the Center Party and Member of Parliament Liv Signe Navarsete warned a Bergen family against selling another major property on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard to Chinese investors. Huang Nubo reportedly has made a bid for the property in Austre Adventfjord, near Longyearbyen, that went on the market this spring.

“Norway is a small country with huge resources, and we know that strong countries are interested in getting access to them,” Navarsete told NRK. “And this isn’t only about access to resources but strategic land ownership. This is an area we (Norway) must retain control over.”

The Chinese government, which cut relations with the Norwegian government since Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, already has a research base on Svalbard and last year was granted observer status on the Arctic Council. The Chinese are keen to gain a foothold in the resource-rich Arctic, also in newly emerging shipping routes as the polar ice melts, and a billionaire like Huang may be able to help get it for them.

Questionable intentions
Navarsete isn’t the only one to warn against selling land to Huang’s company. Juan Pablo Cardenal, a researcher who has examined Chinese investment in 40 different countries, told NRK earlier this week that China is mostly interested in the Arctic. “They have a great need for transport of goods through the Arctic in the future,” Cardenal said. Some of the projects Huang has expressed interest in, also in Iceland, “appear meaningless from a business point of view,” Cardenal said, “and that’s exactly when one needs to be careful.”

Huang already has followed the same pattern in Norway that he used in Iceland, by funding cultural projects in local communities, making contacts and building a network, and then trying to buy up large tracts of land for purposes unrelated to initial tourism plans.

Giæver and Larsen scoffed at the concerns, claiming that they’ve already been in China to see some of the projects Huang has developed there. “Anyone trying to paint a negative picture should go to China and see what he’s done here,” Giæver told NRK: “It was a very positive meeting for us.”

Giæver said he has confidence in Huang’s intentions. “We have met a man with sensible values,” he claimed. No formal agreements, reported NRK, are yet in place.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund