China's second-richest man has acquired the British yacht maker Sunseeker and announced plans for a luxury hotel in London in a £1bn investment that broadens the Chinese corporate footprint in the UK.
Dalian Wanda Group, which is controlled by Wang Jianlin, is adding to a diverse list of Chinese interests in Britain that includes Heathrow airport, MG Cars, Thames Water and Weetabix.
The corporation confirmed on Wednesday that it would acquire a 92% stake in Dorset-based Sunseeker for £320m and had finalised a £720m deal to build a five-star hotel in Wandsworth, billed as the "first Chinese luxury hotel overseas".
The announcements underscore the growing international ambitions of Chinese companies, coming a month after the meat producer Shuanghui International launched a $4.7bn (£3bn) bid to purchase the US-based Smithfield, the world's largest pork business. Last year, Wanda also acquired the US cinema chain AMC for $2.6bn.
The emphasis on luxury in the latest announcements also underlines the role of high-end consumption in the world's second largest economy, with the country's burgeoning middle class playing a vital role in boosting sales of upmarket British brands such as Jaguar Land Rover and Burberry.
The Beijing press conference for the Sunseeker announcement did not stint on showmanship. The event was interspersed with musical interludes featuring lasers, smoke machines and sequin-clad dancers on a set resembling a yacht. It included speeches by Wang, the managing director of Sunseeker, Stewart McIntyre, and - in a nod to the importance of China to the UK economy - the British ambassador to China, Sebastian Wood.
Wang, a property tycoon, lauded the UK investment plan as a major step in Wanda's international expansion. Asked why Wanda would purchase a yacht company, he said his conglomerate planned to build marinas in three north-eastern Chinese cities, and that each would require the purchase of at least 10 yachts. "We figured it's more worthwhile to buy a yacht company rather than buy 30 yachts," he said. "Private yachts are a booming market in China."
Wang docks his own $33m Sunseeker in Shanghai and claims that he is the first Chinese citizen to own a private jet. A native of the south-western province Sichuan, he spent his early years in the military combatting hunger during Mao's Cultural Revolution. "In the early days we really had to scramble to eat," he told the Financial Times in a rare interview last year. "The hardship then was unimaginable."
Sunseeker, which has been operating since the 1970s and whose yachts regularly appear in James Bond films, will maintain its UK production base. The company employs 2,000 people and generates revenues of around £300m a year.
"Under no circumstances will we compromise the Sunseeker brand," McIntyre told reporters, adding that the company exported its products to 67 countries. "We're proud to fly the flag that we're made in Britain."
He said the company was drawn towards "inherent opportunities in China and the Asian market", adding that the Wanda group had similar attributes to Sunseeker. "It has a strong commitment to entrepreneurship," he said.
Wanda's luxury hotel will be built in London's Nine Elms regeneration site, which will also be home to a new US embassy, shops, offices and flats. A video played at the press conference advertised the 160-room hotel's art deco style and rooftop swimming pool. Wood said he hoped the hotel would "bring a touch of Chinese style to the centre of London".
"We already have 500 companies that come from mainland China now operating in the UK," he said. "Wanda is not the only group who benefits from the most open market in the world, but with their investment scale and future plans, Wanda Group is absolutely standing at the top."
Chinse tourists spent $102bn on foreign travel last year, a 40% rise on 2011, and London receives around 180,000 a year. Boris Johnson called the Wanda development a "cracking deal".
Wang said his company planned to build similar hotel developments in eight or 10 cities around the world over the next decade. "Why do I say 10 years? We don't want to do this in one night," he said. "We've opened 16 hotels in China in one year. Internationally, it's different."
• SAIC Motor Corp, China's biggest car maker, bought MG Cars in 2007. Other major European car brands under Chinese ownership include Saab and Volvo. China is now the world's largest car market ahead of the US, and domestic manufacturers have been keen to acquire production expertise.
• China Investment Corporation, the country's sovereign wealth fund, bought a stake in the UK's largest water utility in 2012. George Osborne described it as a vote of confidence in Britain. Thames Water's tax arrangements came under attack this month when it was revealed it paid no corporation tax on profits of £550m.
• State-owned Bright Foods bought a majority stake in Weetabix for £720m in May last year, after failing in a £1.2bn bid for United Biscuits, the maker of Jaffa Cakes and Twiglets. Bright Foods has been tipped to make further acquisitions of western food brands.
• China Investment Corporation added Heathrow to its list of assets last year when it bought a 10% stake in the UK's largest airport. CIC has about $410bn in assets under management and its investments include shareholdings in the investment bank Morgan Stanley.