On Jan. 31, with translators in Toledo and China, Dashing Pacific Chairman Yuan Xiaohong agreed to be interviewed by The Blade. She, along with Wu Kin Hung, last year purchased The Docks restaurant complex and half of the Marina District from the city of Toledo. Mr. Wu, who had agreed to be interviewed with Ms. Yuan, backed out at the last minute saying he was traveling in China on business.
Here is a transcript of the interview with Yuan Xiaohong, conducted by Ignazio Messina, special projects editor of The Blade. The interview was translated by a translation service at the University of Michigan:
Opening statement from John Robinson Block, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Blade
"I am sorry not to have yet met you both personally. I look forward to meeting you in the near future.
"I want you to know that all of us at the Toledo Blade appreciate the important role you and Dashing Pacific will have in Toledo's future through your large and important investment. We wish you both personal success and prosperity through your involvement in Toledo.
"We also are sensitive to the fact that journalism in America is different than in China. We -- the American press -- are separate from government. We operate independently and we are not always popular with the elected politicians such as mayors, governors, and presidents. We ask questions that they sometimes do not want to answer, and we are obligated to do so. This is not unusual. The Toledo Blade is typical of the American Press in seeking openness in public affairs. We ask questions to provide information to the public, not out of any feeling of unfriendliness.
I want to assure you of our profound respect for both of you and Dashing Pacific. The Toledo Blade is an American newspaper that may operate in a way that may be unfamiliar to you. But we seek to work cooperatively with you as we perform our role of informing our public."
Opening statement from Ms. Yuan:
"Okay, thank you. First of all, I’d like to say hi to everyone who is present today, such as Dean ( Dean Monske, CEO of the Toledo Regional Growth Partnership), Bill (William Rudolph, CEO of Rudolph/Libbe, Inc., Mr. journalist (Ignazio Messina) and I don’t know who else is there but Happy New year to you all. Thank you for your interest in interviewing us. I have my three children here: my daughter, son in law. And Jimmy (Jimmy Wu), who is there, is my Godson. Thank you for the interview. It has been half a year since we purchased the land by the marina last June. We wanted very much to report to everyone the progress of the land by the river and coincidentally you were thinking the same thing as we were. So we are very thankful for the interview today. If you have any questions, you may go ahead and ask me now."
Greetings from Ignazio Messina.
Ms. Yuan: Oh, good, I have met you before. It was you who interviewed me last time. Is that right? You made the picture that you took of me look very pretty. Thank you! (laughing)
Q: How did you and Wu Kin Hung meet?
A: Are you asking when we met? We have been good friends for many years. Because I went to Hong Kong in 1995. Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Therefore we got to know each other and became very good friends.
Q: So you met for the first time in 1995?
A: No, I don’t remember the approximate time but it’s been a long time.
Q: What was the occasion of your meeting? Was it family or business?
A: Personal relationship.
Q: What attracted you to Toledo?
A: I remember that I have answered this question many times before. First of all, I want to say that Toledo is a beautiful city. Through the visits by some businessmen to China and then we were invited by Toledo businessmen to visit Toledo. I felt that Toledo is a city that’s worth developing. Plus the mayor of Toledo has a father-daughter relationship (with the city). He is a very capable man who really wants his city to be a great city. Because this mayor has great vision for the development of his city he has a sense of responsibility for his city. At the same time, to us, the investors, he also has great sense of responsibility. In addition, his understanding of Chinese culture, and his liking of the Chinese culture made me feel that if we Chinese go there to invest and to build, there would be a great outcome. It would be a great start for both parties.
Q. What are your plan for the Marina district?
A: For this piece of land, we are planning on building it into an international city. So in designing and planning, we also gear towards this direction in hopes that it will attract more people. We want it to be liked not only by American and Chinese people, but also we want people from all over the world to like it. So all the planning is going towards this direction.
Q. Do you plan on applying for U.S. citizenship?
A: I never thought about it. Because right now I am a citizen of Hong Kong, I can conveniently travel to countries around the world. There is no need to apply for U.S. citizenship. But we’ll see in the future once we settle there. It all depends on my children. Because my son-in-law is already a U.S. citizen. He became a U.S. citizen many years ago.
Q. Where is your permanent home?
A: In fact, I don’t have a particular place to stay during a particular period of time. It all depends on my business needs, my person needs, and my mood. Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Ordos, I go to all of them. Maybe I will be in all three places in one night or maybe I would go (from one to the other) in half a year. It’s hard to say.
Q. Do you own a home in Shenzhen?
A: Yes. Many.
Q. How many?
Q. How many of them do you live in?
A: All of our houses are located in different areas. Some are on the beach and some are in the city. So it depends on whether we go there for vacation or to live there.
Q. Will you purchase a home in Toledo?
A: Planning on it! I am building over there, so of course I am buying a house in Toledo. In fact, I was already looking at houses during my last two visits. Bell is aware of it.
Q. Why is this important?
A: Because I own a business in Toledo. In addition, my daughter and my son-in -law. Let me tell you, I am going to have a grandson very soon! Because my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson will be living there to be in charge of my business. Therefore we will have to have a house to live in.
Q. The Economist Magazine last month launched a weekly section devoted to China, the first time the magazine says since 1942 that it has singled out a single country for scrutiny. The Economist listed several reasons for this decision, primarily that China is governed by a system that is out of step with global norms.
Do you think this is unfair? And do you think Toledoans should be concerned that the money used to buy The Docks and the Marina District came from such a system that is out of step with global norms?
A: I don’t believe that it’s fair to China. In fact, nowadays China has become more and more open. People live better and better. People who come to China can see that as well. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans, including many of them who come to do business in China. The trend is that China is becoming better and better. If you want to talk about it in a larger scale, then I really have not done any research on it. This is just what I can see.
Q. Should Americans be concerned about investment from China?
A: I think this is a very good thing. To be able to revive many of the American cities so people can live better, that’d be excellent. China has become the country it is right now precisely because it had opened up and reformed, using foreign investment up until today. I think it is a very good thing for the Americans.
Q. When and where were you born and where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Inner Mongolia. As for my age, I want to keep it private. I am very young! (laughter) I grew up in Inner Mongolia. …..I really don’t want to tell you my age. I indeed am very young.
Q. Parents’ names?
A: My father’s last name is Yuan. My father is Yuan senior and I am Yuan junior. My father passed away over 10 years ago. I hope you don’t ask me more questions in this subject which would irritate me.
Q. Your mother's name?
A: My mother is alive. She lives well and she is very healthy.
Q. Your mother’s name?
A: Do you really have to know that? OK, translator, could you tell Mr. journalist that I have very limited time today because I am going to catch a flight. If he has questions about the Marina District, he can ask me more about it but keep personal information minimal. There is really no particular reason why I don’t want to reveal my parents’ names. It’s just that I want my mother to live in peace without having outside disturbance.
Q. As a young woman from Inner Mongolia, how were you able to study at the University of Beijing?
A: It’s like in the U.S., I had free choices as long as my test scores allowed. I could apply to Beijing or Shanghai or anywhere.
Q. Were you a member of the Communist Party in college? A member now?
Q. Did you work for the Inner Mongolian government?
A: I worked at the culture department, cultural groups, arts, etc.
Q. When did you move to Hong Kong, and what did you do there?
A: I don’t remember the exact year. In the 90’s. 96 or 97? Year 95, 96 or 97? It’s been a long time, over 20 years. I’ve always been doing business there.
Q. What unit of government in Inner Mongolia sent you to Hong Kong?
A: I wasn’t sent by the Inner Mongolian government to Hong Kong. It was by chance that I had an opportunity when the government was undergoing reform. Many government workers themselves resigned. I was one of those. So I went there on my own; wasn’t sent by the government.
Q. Translator asked if she had worked for Hong Kong government?
A: No, I didn’t.
Q. What is Guangdong Information and Engineering?
A: It’s an engineering firm, It involves office automation and such.
Q. Are you the owner?
A: I am in charge of their Inner Mongolian office.
Q. Have you used personal relationships with Mongolian government officials to gain contracts?
A: It’s neither accurate nor fair to say that. In fact in China these days, bidding has been very fair. Every time we submit a bid, it’s been fairly done. Actually many times we didn’t win the bids. It’s not like we won every single bid. We are a very reasonable and very fair competitor.
Q. Is your former husband a high ranking government official?
A: No. You find one for me now?
Q. What is your former husband’s name?
Ms. Yuan to translator: Could you interpret this and tell them that in China when one becomes well-to-do, then all the gossips come around.
Q. Going back to the first question about how you met Mr. Wu.
A: We have been friends. We have been in touch because we are good friends. We started to work together when Mr. Wu accompanied the mayor to visit Ordos. Then we went to Toledo together. That’s when we really began to talk about doing business together.
Ms Yuan’s closing statement:
"I would like to say something. First of all, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity today to let me communicate with all of you. About the progress of the land development, we have done a lot of work during the past half a year. Because we set the goal of making it an international city, we looked for designers from the U.S., China, and Japan. In the U.S., Bill Rudolf has been a great help. He had helped us look for designers in the US.
"Because it is the first time we do business in the U.S., there are many areas in the U.S. that we are unfamiliar with as it is probably different from (doing business) in China. Therefore we had taken some unnecessary detours. For example, taking our ideas, planning, and design from China to Toledo doesn’t necessarily fit what’s required in the U.S. Therefore we had to come back and redesign which wasted human efforts and money as well.
"I also would like to ask you to thank those who had helped us, such as Dean and Rudolf, who gave us accurate guidance. Also I hope everything goes well and that Toledo can be developed quickly. In the future I also would like the support of the media. Because of your report on this topic, our project will be able to move on forward faster.
"I also hope that people in Toledo will like us in the future so we can work together to build a better Toledo city together, and we can gain support from you all. I hope you will treat us like you would treat your good friends. Toledo is your hometown right now but it will also be ours in the future. Therefore I hope we can make it a beautiful and prosperous city for our generations to come. Lastly, I wish Toledo a better tomorrow; become a better and more beautiful city."