Chinese-American national Charles Xue has led an interesting life, becoming one of the richest men, and a leading tech investor, in China.
The son of a top Chinese government official, Mr Xue navigated through the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution, went to study abroad in the United States, and then returned to build a business empire in his homeland.
He is also a celebrity blogger with more than 12 million followers in the Chinese social media site Weibo. Mr Xue, who is in Cambodia for business, recently spoke with Khmer Times business reporter Jose Rodriguez T. Senase about his life and plans to invest in the Kingdom.
KT: It appears that you came from a prominent family. Your father was Vice Minister of the United Front Work Department and was also Deputy Mayor of Beijing. But then the Cultural Revolution happened and it greatly affected your family. Could you tell us about your life during that period?
Mr Xue: I was born in 1953. My father was a high-ranking official in the Chinese Community Party. My life experienced a drastic change in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao purged all the old cadres of the party, including my father who was put in jail. I was 14 years old at the time. We were kicked out of our house and I was sent to Inner Mongolia to re-educate myself. I was there for more than 7 years. In 1976, Chairman Mao died, my father was released from prison and returned to government, and I went back to Beijing to work at the Forbidden City.
KT: In the early 1980s, you were accepted to study in the United States. You spent the following years studying at the University of California Berkeley and then went to work in New York City. Despite a successful career in the US, you decided to return to China. What influenced your decision then? How did your business career take off in China?
Mr Xue: During the time of Deng Xiaoping, China was opening up to the world and there was a big push for economic development. Telecommunications became popular among mainland Chinese. That’s when I decided that it was a really good time to get into the telecommunications business. That was in 1991. There were three of us. One invested a quarter of a million dollars, and we started a company – UTStarcom. We introduced a personal handy-phone system, which soon became the most popular telecommunications device in China. After a few years, UTStarcom became the most successful startup company ever built by the mainland Chinese with market value reaching $9 billion. I resigned from my chairmanship of the company in 2001 and started investing in a few hundred startups, many of which became successful.
KT: You said you are fascinated with Cambodia and wants to invest in the country. What are your specific plans? Where in Cambodia you are planning to focus your investment?
Mr Xue: I came here last year to attend a blockchain conference, and I fell in love with Cambodia then. I returned 11 more times and I have been here for the last four months. I selected Sihanoukville as my first stop. We will start with land and real estate. I bought 1,000 hectares of land in Ream near Sihanoukville’s airport. I also got a 100-year lease on 4,000 hectares of land at a place called National Forestry Reservation, an area also near the airport. The place is 8 square kilometer bigger than Macao. which is 15 times bigger than the whole of Macau. There, we will build a new Sihanoukville. We want to build a casino, an entertainment centre, and a showroom. We also want to build villas, a golf course, a safari, vacation homes for the local people, and retirement homes for Chinese that will be affordable. There would also be an industrial zone where the Chinese can set up factories.
KT: How much are you planning to invest in Sihanoukville?
Mr Xue: We cannot disclose the exact amount, but it is substantial. The initial investment will be a few hundred million dollars.
KT: What is your message to other international investors, especially the Chinese?
Mr Xue: They should also come and help develop this place alongside me.