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Company behind canal has spotty past

| Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, SEPT. 1, 2013 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this June 25, 2013 file photo, Wang Jing, chairman of Hong-Kong HKND Group, attends a press conference at a hotel in Beijing, China. When President Daniel Ortega granted Jing, a Chinese telecommunications executive, exclusive rights to develop a $40 billion canal through Nicaragua and operate it for 100 years, his administration touted the CEO’s record of success heading a wireless communications firm with projects in 20 countries. But an examination of those claims paints a different picture. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

MANAGUA — When President Daniel Ortega granted a Chinese telecommunications executive exclusive rights to develop a $40 billion canal through Nicaragua and operate it for 100 years, his administration touted the CEO's record of success heading a wireless communications firm with projects in 20 countries.

Wang Jing's company, Xinwei, boasted that it had orchestrated an array of deals worth more than $5 billion during the last three years, in places as far-flung as Zimbabwe and Ukraine. Its own literature describes the company as possessing “huge strength and sublime eminence in the global communications industry.”

But an examination of those claims by The Associated Press around the world paints a different picture. While at least some of Xinwei's domestic enterprises appear to be successful, outside of China, promises to build revolutionary new telecom networks have yet to materialize. And deals with local partners have been marred by false starts and poor performance.

In 12 of the 20 countries where Wang's Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group and associated companies say they've done business, the AP found no evidence of a successful, large-scale project.

In Cambodia, a promised high-tech wireless network has yet to operate after unexplained delays. In Zimbabwe, officials say Xinwei's partner had its license pulled by regulators and assets seized by a local bank.

And in Nicaragua, where Wang has formed a new company to build a waterway that could be three times the length of the Panama Canal, there is no sign of a promised $700 million national wireless network more than a year after he announced his intent to build it.

In the other eight countries where Xinwei operates, either analysts and major telecom firms said they had not heard of the company, or Xinwei did not provide enough details about its partners or projects to allow its record to be examined.

That record is raising doubts among local businessmen, political opposition leaders and outside experts about the ability of Wang's new company to build the canal.

“This is just orders of magnitude beyond anything that they're capable of,” said Derek Scissors, a senior research fellow who monitors Chinese overseas investment for the Heritage Foundation. “At this point it's just a stunt.”

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