China’s investments in Australia’s property market have often been hailed by politicians as a source of economic growth for the country, but reports this month indicate that the activities of at least two mainland developers may also have had direct benefits for the politicians themselves.
A seemingly unrelated pair of reports this month in the Australian media have established links between Chinese property developers investing down under, including Hong Kong-listed homebuilder Guangzhou R&F, and mammoth donations to the campaigns of politicians at the local and national level.
A second mainland developer active in Australia has now been tied to a corruption scandal in southern China that ultimately toppled Guangzhou Party Secretary Wan Qingliang in 2014.
As many Australians grapple with the challenges posed by skyrocketing real estate prices, and Chinese companies continue to bid aggressively for Aussie property assets, the reports of influence-buying increase the likelihood of a political backlash against Chinese investors.
Mainland Developer Tied to Jieyang Scandal
A report this month in the Sydney Morning Herald linked mainland tycoon turned Aussie property developer and philanthropist Huang Xiangmo to corrupt deals in the southern Chinese city of Jieyang that brought down Guangdong Communist Party secretary Wan Qingliang in 2014.
Huang, who also goes by his legal name Huang Changran, has bought up two shopping centres in Sydney since 2012, and last year paid A$59 ($42) million for a residential site in North Sydney. According to Yuhu Group’s website, Huang emigrated to Australia in 2011, Yuhu Group itself is from Jieyang.
The Herald story cited sources with knowledge of Huang’s departure from China as saying that the former head of a state-run enterprise left his headquarters in Shenzhen quickly, after having been tipped off that one of his associates in the government was about to be caught up in Chinese president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.
Before ascending to the top spot in Guangdong, Wan had served in top posts in Jieyang from 2003 to 2008, including party chief for the city.
Among the leading corruption allegations against Wan were bribes paid by commercial real estate groups from Jieyang to gain access to development sites in the province. Before Wan was charged in 2014, his longtime associate, Jieyang Party Secretary Chen Hongping was expelled from the Communist Party for corruption in 2013.
According to reports in Chinese media, Huang gave RMB 150 million ($32 million) to Chen Hongping, with the gift supposed to be earmarked for the construction of a ceremonial city gate. When Chen was sentenced for corruption, among the charges against him were misuse of funds for the city gate.
New Australian Already a Leading Donor
As a newly minted Australian, Huang has stood out for his donations to causes, having given A$1.8 million to set up the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, and pledging $3.5 million for an Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University, according to the media report.
However, the developer has also been a leading patron of politicians. The Herald indicates that Huang, who like many developers on the mainland profited from his ability to secure land rights from the government to build projects, has through a network of associates given more than A$1 million to both of Australia’s major political parties since 2012.
The Yuhu Group has also established it political influence by hiring former Australian deputy premier Andrew Stoner to join the company just eight months after leaving Parliament.
R&F Donates to Australia’s Ruling Party
While Huang Xiangmo and Yuhu stand out as the highest profile case of Chinese developers engaging with politicians in Australia, they are not the only mainland property investors to recently receive media attention.
A report in the Australian Financial Review earlier this month has tied top Chinese developer Guangzhou R&F Properties to an A$100,000 ($71,000 donation) to Australia’s ruling Liberal party last year.
The political gift, which was on a par with the donation by the widow of late Aussie billionaire Kerry Packer, was submitted by 26-year-old Jiandong Huang (no relation to Huang Xiangmo), who listed only a residential address in Australia. Huang has now been revealed by the AFR to be a relative of Tiger Huang, an R&F operative who was sent to Australia to help the developer set up operations there.
R&F has rapidly made a name for itself in Australia as the homebuilder has invested in four projects in Brisbane and Melbourne in the last few years, as part of a cross-border acquisition spree that has seen the Guangzhou company build an overseas portfolio of at least 15 properties spread across Australia, Malaysia and the US in the last three years.
In November last year R&F said that it had set aside A$500 million ($367 million) for acquiring new sites in Australia.