One-time PLA office Wang Jianlin seems to determined to show that his Dalian Wanda Group has completed its own long march, as the commercial developer this month has announced milestones for a trio of projects worth a combined RMB 100 billion ($14.46 billion).
During May the company, which just two years ago was targetted by China’s central government as one of the “grey rhino” threats likely to upset the economy through its string of multi-billion dollar cross-border acquisitions, has announced new tourism and real estate projects in the Guangdong city of Chaozhou and the Liaoning provincial capital of Shenyang, while also breaking ground on an attraction glorifying the real long march, which Wang’s father had joined as a PLA soldier, in Yan’an, Sha’anxi province.
Now Dalian Wanda Group, which Wang Jianlin once dreamed would become a global hotel player, is doubling down on its development of shopping malls and cultural attractions in China’s second and third tier cities.
Five More Malls and a Theme Park in Shenyang
Wanda announced on May 15 that it will put down an additional RMB 80 billion in the northeast city of Shenyang, on top of the RMB 25 billion it has already invested, in a move to “revitalizing China’s old manufacturing base.”
Wang Jianlin attributed his company’s new commitment in Shenyang, which involves a package of projects said to boost the northeastern city’s services sector, to Dalian Wanda’s optimism about its future development.
The money will be spent on developments including a cultural tourism project, an international hospital, an international school and five Wanda Plazas, according to a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement inked by Wanda and the local government.
The cultural tourism project will occupy an area of 4,000 acres and include a themed town, sports park and a cluster of hotels, while the five Wanda Plazas will be located in lesser-developed areas of the city, such as Shenbei and Dadong, which currently are said to lack large-scale modern commercial facilities.
To complement all that family fun, the two parties have also agreed to invite top primary and middle school educational brands to build and manage a 12-year boarding school in the city.
The international hospital is planned to cover an area of 400,000 square meters and is expected to offer medical, rehabilitation and lifestyle services, under the direction of international hospital management teams and technical experts.
Guangdong Project on the Way
Wanda’s latest commitment in Shenyang came one week after it signed an agreement with the government of Chaozhou in Guangdong province to carry out “all-round cooperation in the fields of culture and tourism, sports, film and television, exhibition and performing arts through investment in the “Five Ones” projects, as announced on Wanda’s website.
Wanda’s Chaozhou deal is built on a “comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement” with the Chaozhou government to “forge a new brand for the city” through a series of co-operative projects.
As in Shenyang, the plan includes a cultural tourism project in the southern Chinese trading hub which Wanda predicts will cost RMB 20 billion. The tourism project is planned to feature parks and resorts and programming including an annual celebration of high-profile business personalities from the city such as Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing and Tencent’s founder Tony Ma.
Celebrating a Red History
The ceremonies in Chaozhou and Shenyang came less than one month after Wanda broke ground on its red-tourism branded Wanda city in Yan’an, an attraction which the company says will be a base for patriotic education in central China’s Shaanxi province.
The ground-breaking in the cultural home of China’s Long March, which Wang Jianlin’s father joined as a soldier in Mao’s People’s Liberation Army, was arranged to be in time for the celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Yan’an Wanda City covers 128 hectares with a total floor space of 2.7 million square meters and represents an investment of RMB 12 billion, Wang said at a speech at the April event.
Cultural Projects Follow Asset Sales
Wanda’s comeback in China’s far reaches come after the company sold off much of its domestic hospitality empire over the last two years to help pare down debt.
In July 2017, Wanda had sold a 91 percent in its 13 theme park-based development projects to Hong Kong-listed Sunac China for RMB43.8 billion and 77 hotels to Guangzhou’s R&F Properties for 19.9 billion.
Then in October last year, Wanda cut another arm off by selling its tourism management business to Tianjin-based Sunac for RMB 6.28 billion.
Although his company sold off those holdings, Wang has continued to express his faith in the prospects for China’s cultural tourism industry. Today, the conglomerate on its website touts the sector as a “new pillar industry of Wanda.”