Billionaire Chinese property developer Xu Weiping looks to Ireland for new investments
ONE of China's leading property developers is eyeing Ireland for investment as he seeks opportunities across Europe.
Xu Weiping plans to construct a new neighbourhood in London's docklands aimed at attracting Asian companies looking to do business in Europe.
The billionaire, however, is also understood to be assessing a number of other sites beyond the 'Asian Business Port', as the London development is known.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Xu praised Ireland as a destination for enterprise and admitted that the lower cost of doing business in this country made it attractive to companies coming from the Far East.
"Value for money is a very important element for any market," he said. "London is a huge market but its costs are very high – far higher than Ireland – so from this perspective Ireland has many advantages.
"Its labour and manufacturing costs are much lower than other centres and, importantly, it is also an English-speaking country. That makes it far easier for Far Eastern companies to integrate into the local society and do business there – and combined with the country's position between the US and Europe – it is an excellent location for Asian business," he added.
Through his company ABP, Mr Xu has put together a number of developments in China but the Asian Business Port in London is his first overseas project.
The £1bn (about €1.2bn) project has been backed by London mayor Boris Johnson, and once it is complete, it is estimated that about 60,000 jobs will be created at the site, close to London City airport.
Mr Xu's comments are the latest sign that Asian businesses are turning their attention to Ireland. While numerous overseas investors have bought into the country since the crash, the vast majority of those have been US investment firms with some sort of Irish connection.
Most of the buyers have taken on existing properties and have maintained or renovated them to extract value. Mr Xu, however, is seen as much more of a traditional developer who would look to build a site from the ground up.
Few Asian and Chinese investors have put money into Ireland, although that is changing. The IDA lists five companies in Ireland that originate from China. The electronics giant Huawei has offices in Cork and Dublin; Chemical Inspection and Regulation Service Limited is based in Drogheda; Firecomms is in Cork; and CBC Financial Leasing is located in Dublin. Infrared camera business Satir Europe has offices in Dundalk.
The visit of current Chinese president Xi Jinping two years ago put Ireland front and centre for many firms. We also benefited from the influx of Chinese students who have come to Ireland to learn English, a point Mr Xu highlighted.
The IDA has been ramping up its efforts to attract Chinese investment, and last night a spokesman welcomed Mr Xu's interest in Ireland.
"Attracting inward investment from China into Ireland is a major focus at present and represents a long-term strategic priority for IDA Ireland and the country," the spokesman said.