Every major country, including China, has at least a few eccentric billionaires. Shenzhen's billionaire sex-toy manufacturer Peter Tseng and is obsession with his Bordeaux collection pops to mind immediately. But he's not alone in this distinction, Chen Guangbiao who made his nearly $900 million fortune in recycling, is also a bit of a celebrity in China due to his famous philanthropy and occasionally odd behavior. In January of 2013, never one to shirk from the spotlight, Guangbiao handed out cans of free "fresh air" during a particular nasty stretch of air pollution.
New York Times: A two year dream "realized"
It now appears that Guangbiao also has designs on the New York Times, something that he has apparently coveted for over two years. Today, he confirmed that he plans to meet with a "leading shareholder" in New York next week.
"There's nothing that can't be bought for the right price," Chen told Reuters.
However, the willingness of the Ochs-Sulzberger family, which has controlled the Times for decades, to sell to Chen is not a foregone conclusion.
Analysts say it is unlikely that the Times, which has long been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family, would sell to Chen. A spokesperson for the New York Times, when contacted by Reuters, continued the newspaper's policy of not commenting on rumors. Additionally, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the company's chairperson, stated earlier this month that the Times was not for sale.
Chen's interest in the Times is based on his belief that the paper is worth something in the neighborhood of $1 billion. While Chen doesn't have this kind of money, Hurun's Rich List of China's super-wealthy put the magnate's wealth at about $740-million in 2012, he claims to have a silent partner in Hong Kong that is willing to put up $600 million with Chen paying the remainder of any sale price.
"If we act in sincerity and good faith, I believe the Times chairperson will change his way of thinking," he said to Reuters.
Chen's interest seems to be quite real. The tycoon has said that barring an outright sale he would be happy to become a controlling stakeholder. Barring this, he'll just buy "some stock." He also stated that he would be willing to sell nearly everything he owns to make a serious bid and that he wasn't motivated by politics but rather his beliefs in "peace on earth, protecting the environment and philanthropy."
In August of 2012, Chen purchased a half-page advertisement in the paper he covets in order to weigh-in on a dispute between China and Japan over an island chain in the Pacific. When asked for comment on the advertisement, Chen said, "After that, I realized that the Times' influence all over the world is incredibly vast," he said. "Every government and embassy, all around the world, pays attention to the New York Times."
The Times is blocked in China
There is some irony in Chen Guangbiao's quest for the Times, as the newspaper's website is blocked in China and has been since 2012 when it reported on former Premier Wen Jiabao's apparent wealth.
Chen said it was natural for the government to block the site because the report on Wen "contained biased and negative things that were not verified".
"If I acquire the Times, the paper will only report the truth and must verify all information," he said, adding that he would like every Chinese household to subscribe to the paper.
It also appears that Chen is willing to "slum it" if his offer is rebuffed. He specifically mentioned CNN, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal as also of interest to him.