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RED ARISTOCRATS (16): Xi Jinping's sister a business mogul shrouded in secrecy

Date: 2012-10-17

SHENZHEN, China--One day in mid-July, I was waiting to hold an interview on the 24th floor of a 50-story building in the heart of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in China’s Guangdong province.

A man wearing a green polo shirt entered the room and said: “We don’t have any obligation to answer your questions. … But we don’t want to arouse suspicion unnecessarily by declining your request for an interview.”

The man identified himself as the vice president of Shenzhen Yuanwei Investment Co., the core unit of the Yuanwei group, which is mainly involved in real estate development.

After sitting on a leather sofa with his legs crossed, the 50-year-old said, “Certainly, the two once managed our company.”

He was referring to Qi Qiaoqiao, the 63-year-old older sister of Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s next paramount leader at the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress this autumn, and her 62-year-old husband, Deng Jiagui. Between them, Qi and Deng own all shares in Yuanwei Investment.

The vice president of the company gave his name but declined my request for his business card, saying, “That’s unnecessary.”

“Since you have come all the way to visit us in person,” he added in a conciliatory tone, “we are friends.”

I had called the company to learn more about Qi and Deng.

Even Hong Kong media have offered little information about Deng, who ran a business related to tobacco production equipment in Yunnan during the 1980s and 1990s.

After marrying Deng in 1996, Qi plunged into the world of business, setting up an investment company in Hong Kong and becoming a board member of seven companies.

Six of the seven firms, however, have already been closed, and most shares in the remaining one have been transferred to her 34-year-old daughter, Zhang Yannan.

From 2007 to 2009, Zhang purchased real properties worth at least Hong Kong $600 million (about 6 billion yen, or $77 million) in total at going market rates.

According to the vice president, Qi and Deng still visit the company as its shareholders from time to time, although they no longer hold any position.

In contrast to Deng, whom the vice president described as sociable and friendly, Qi has an aura of dignity, he said.

She behaves politely toward company employees but is very demanding with regard to their job performance, he added.

When I asked if I could meet the pair, the vice president immediately said, “That’s impossible.”

Quickly dropping the gentle manner in which he had been speaking, the official said in a firm tone, “I can tell them about your visit, but I can’t arrange for you to meet them.”

Most of the group companies have gone out of business, and about the only firm still generating revenues is a car inspection company whose annual sales are around 4 million yuan (about 50 million yen), according to the vice president.

“It is just an ordinary enterprise,” he repeated.

When I mentioned the construction of a subway station building in Shenzhen, however, the vice president suddenly broke into a smile and said, “That’s our company’s biggest project.”