Hainan leaders “not really clear” about world’s largest golf complex?

Sorry for the silence of late — various assignments and deadlines demanded my attention. I’ve got a break in the action at the moment and wanted to pass along something that, although a couple months old now, I think is still worth a post. Less than a week after the release of my Financial Times Weekend Magazine story about golf development in Hainan and the secretive 22-course Mission Hills development down there, Hainan’s government leaders held their seemingly annual press conference in which they announce plans to turn the island into the next Hawaii or Bali.

Several stories followed the early-January presser. They talked about Hainan’s plans to clean up tourism and become a tourist heaven. They mentioned Hainan’s plans to promote “red” tourism and dabble in games of chance (including, perhaps, horse racing). Little more than a week later, there was a second announcement: Hainan was to halt land development approvals in an effort to curb speculation sparked by their initial “tourist heaven” announcement. And that was followed by some analysis that Hainan’s attempt to curb speculation did little to cool the market and instead created a “second wave of gains” caused by “property hoarding.”

Anyway, buried in all that was one line about golf development that caught my eye:

Asked about expanding golf courses in Hainan, Luo denied the province had violated China’s strict rules on building golf courses and had never used subsistence farmland to build golf courses.

I was curious to see how much of a role golf played in the press conference, and found video footage (only works on IE, I think) and a complete Chinese transcript of the proceedings. The golf-related question was posed by David Wivell, a Beijing-based correspondent for Associated Press Television News, who I assume had recently perused my FT piece, because he made specific mention of “Project 791” and a “22-course project.” (You can see a photo of Wivell holding a microphone and talking at the press conference here.)

Here’s an English translation of the exchange between Wivell and Hainan’s party chief Wei Liucheng and governor Luo Baoming:

David Wivell: The central government has in recent years been urging developers not to build more golf courses, but reports say Hainan is completing a 22-course project — I think it is called the 791 project. Why is Hainan building so many? And how will that impact the environment?

Wei Liucheng: As to golf, you mentioned building 22 new golf courses — I’m not really clear about it. The documents from the State Council do have one regulation about Hainan developing golf. That’s Article 3, Item 8, and it says: If it conforms to the general plan for the utilization of land, doesn’t occupy basic farmland, protects the ecological environment effectively and protects the interests of farmers under the premise of scientific planning, total control and rational distribution, the golf industry may be developed with regulation. Throughout the world, golf is an important factor to tourism, and regulated golf development is probably good for the development of tourism and the development of an economic society. But it needs to be standardized, and we cannot mess this up.

Luo Baoming: Let me add one point. Although the State Council said in the document we can develop the golf industry, it has very restrictive conditions. I can say this, Hainan has never developed golf in a way that goes against the general plan for the utilization of land, and golf has never taken one acre of basic farmland. With this as a prerequisite, according to our plan’s demands, we will develop the golf industry moderately and orderly and within the parameters of State Council policies. The plan regarding this aspects still needs approval from the State Development and Reform Commission and related government departments.

Emphasis mine. I hope Wei was either caught off guard or simply brushing off the question, because you would think Hainan’s party secretary would be aware of a project the size of Hong Kong Island within his province’s borders, especially when the developers have local government connections — Ken Chu, vice chairman of Mission Hills Group was elected to the Hainan Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference a few years ago. In his defense, Wei could have some sneaky wiggle room here, too, since the number “22” was specified. I have been told that figure is a moving target due to continued land disputes and could change.

Also, in February, the Financial Times released the Chinese language version of my Hainan story. It’s worth checking out if only for the lively comments section. Those who don’t read Chinese can kind of get the gist at Google Translate.

Here’s one comment that stood out:


In the future all of these golf courses can be used as cemeteries. The peasant uprising will produce a large number of dead bodies.

Finally, a newspaper over in the “Hainan of America” also picked up on the news of the Mission Hills development in Hainan, but they credited the report to “Britain’s Financial News.” Details, details.