May 6th, 2014 (InsideCostaRica.com) In a May 1st interview with Reuters, Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing discussed why he’s putting his fortune behind a controversial $50 billion “mega canal” across Nicaragua that would dwarf the Panama Canal.
In the interview, Wang promised that work on the canal would begin late this year, dispelling rumors that the project might have been delayed until 2015.
“There were some media reports saying the canal project had been postponed to 2015. We thought it was really strange because we never had any plans to postpone the project. Nor did we encounter any problems that would force us to do so,” Wang said.
“We talked to the official the reports mentioned and he told us very clearly that he had never said anything like that. Either the media got it wrong or someone started a rumor. So President Ortega and I made a joint statement confirming work on the canal would indeed start at the end of 2014.”
Wang also seems confident that financing for the $50 billion project won’t be a problem. Wang said there were a number of ways in which he and his company will be able to raise capital, adding that the project “doesn’t require $50 billion in cash.”
“A large portion of the $50 billion is actually in materials, including cement and steel. We have signed contracts with a well-known steelworks and a cement plant to jointly build facilities in Nicaragua. What these plants produce will be used to build the canal,” Wang said, adding that the arrangement would provide tax breaks and allow his group to control steel and cement prices.
Wang said that so far he has financed the project completely with his own cash, estimating he has invested about $100 million so far.
In the interview, Wang stressed that environmental concerns were being taken into account.
Many have expressed their concern that the proposed route – which crosses through Lake Nicaragua, an important source of fresh water in the country – could cause environmental damage. Wang said he already has some 100 workers in Nicaragua, many working on feasibility and environmental issues, and that scientific models indicate there will be no adverse affects to the lake.
Environmentalists have warned that the project could spark an environmental disaster that threatens drinking water supplies and fragile ecosystems.
With an area of 8,264 square kilometers, the lake is the largest in Central America.
Wang also denied any involvement in the project on the part of the Chinese government.
The government of Costa Rica said in June of last year that it supports Nicaragua’s effort to build the canal so long as the route wouldn’t pose any risk to its territory.
Nicaragua’s National Assembly voted 61-25 to approve a 50-year concession to Wang for the project last year.
Under the concession, his company would operate the canal for 50 years and then have an option to extend that period for another half-century.
Wang says he is determined to see the project through to completion, which reports indicate will take about six years.
“I will keep investing until the project succeeds,” he told Reuters.