07/04/2019_There he is, popping up again like a Chinese jack in the box: Yang Bin, the former tycoon, once one of the richest men in China …. In the fall of 2018 he is spotted for the first time in 15 years, this time in Taipei, of all places …
Yang Bin who, what??? Yang Bin, the Chinese entrepreneur with a Dutch passport who, inspired by Olanda Mura near Nagasaki in Japan, starts to build a Dutch village of >200 hectares near Shenyang in the northern province of Liaoning, China, in the year 2000. Who the following year is secretly contacted by Kim Jong-il, the father of the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to set up a special economic and administrative region (SAR) at Sinuiju, directly opposite the Chinese city Dandong on the banks of the Yalu. (see article https://www.mijngroeve.nl/geschiedenis/grensgevallen_dandong/ ).
Believe it or not, in 2002 Kim Jong-il suddenly is pushing for a capitalist enclave on North Korean territory, a radical break with the past … in the same year the leadership of the North Korean Communist Party unanimously agrees to the creation of the SAR which will be governed along the lines of China’s formula for Hong Kong, i.e. based on a “one country, two systems” principle. The zone is to have full jurisdictional and administrative autonomy. Yang Bin negotiates the free trade zone will cover more than 80 km² and include the old bridge connecting Sinuiju to Dandong. Eight members of the yet to be appointed 15-member governing board of Sinuiju SAR will be foreigners, the US dollar and Japanese yen will be traded freely in the zone and foreigners will be allowed to travel in and out without a visa!! This free passage will not apply to the local population: a wall will be built around the zone! Morever, for the majority of the nearly half a million North Korean residents of Sinuiju new housing will have to be sought outside the zone. Yang will be in charge as the SAR’s governor with the full consent of Kim. The North Korean “parliament” even adopts a separate “constitution” for Sinuiju SAR which will come into effect by October 1, 2002!
How on earth has Yang Bin achieved this? Kim Jong-il visits Shanghai in January 2001 and is impressed by the rapid economic progress in the metropolis. The North Korean leader declares China’s Communist Party has taken the correct path with its economic reforms. He also makes a stop at a number of greenhouses where fruit and vegetables can be grown year around. Kim considers the greenhouses a potential solution to his country’s food problems, North Korea has suffered a horrific famine in the mid- to end 90’s. Kim nonchalantly asks his Chinese hosts “who is responsible for the construction of these glass houses”? Yang Bin!
Yang in Holland
Where did Yang collect his knowhow about greenhouses? In the Netherlands of course! Yang, born in Nanjing in 1961, loses his parents at a very young age and is raised by his grandmother. He has a short career in the navy before he moves to Leiden, the Netherlands, to study political science in 1986. He isn’t too interested in his studies. After June 4 1989 Yang succeeds in getting political asylum in the Netherlands for his wife and himself claiming their lifes would be in serious danger in China. Why he makes these claims is rather unclear since Yang is not a political activist who has publicly agitated against the Chinese government. Yang and his wife Pang Chaorong receive the coveted Dutch passports nonetheless.
Yang is a cunning, ambitious entrepreneur and a tough negotiator with an indefatigable drive. He first dives into the textile trade (with Poland) and once China re-opens its doors to the outside world after 1993 – moves into the flower trade with his native country. The Dutch Chinese is f.e. involved in setting up a flower auction in Beijing. The headquarters of his company “Euro-Asia Flower” are housed in a chic building on the Rijksstraatweg in Wassenaar, the Netherlands. Besides exporting flowers and orchids, the energetic entrepreneur also ventures into trading greenhouses, assisted by a small team of Dutch agricultural experts. Major players in Dutch horticulture (such as Hartman from Friesland) maintain good relations with Yang. He is quickly expanding his flower and greenhouse empire, amassing a personal fortune in no time. A new headquarters for his “Euro-Asia Agriculture Holding” is established in Shenyang, China. Next the company launches a sister office in Hong Kong, followed by an official listing at the latter’s stock exchange. Around the turn of the century Yang’s personal fortune is estimated to be over US$1B dollars!
Dutch Village Shenyang
In 1999 Yang enthusiastically embarks on a megalomaniacal project in collaboration with local authorities in Shenyang. He wants to recreate highlights of Dutch architectural history in a huge theme park on the southern edge of the city. It should become a tourist destination for the Chinese, but could also offer Dutch entrepreneurs who want to invest in northern China a home, Yang says in an interview in 2002. Besides the Dutch architecture, visitors could enjoy the canals, flower fields and greenhouses. Yang hires the Dutch architects Bert Roos and Teun Notenboom for the construction of his Holland Village. The energetic Yang personally oversees the execution of the project: in 2002 a large part of the village is already completed, with a real-size copy of Amsterdam Central Station as its central showpiece. An exact copy of the The Hague’s Peace Palace is under construction. For photos see the following link:https://sinopix.photoshelter.com/search?I_DSC=HOLLAND%20VILLAGES&_ACT=search&I_DSC_AND=t
Yang and Euro-Asia apparently don’t feel worried when in 2001 the Chinese central government begins to investigate fraud among top officials in and around Shenyang. But starting in 2002 reports are appearing in the Chinese press Yang too is suspected of large-scale tax evasion and bribery. At the same time rumors are building up in Dutch circles in Beijing saying the construction of Holland Village is done by prisoners and (North Korean??) forced labour. And last but not least accusations surface in Hong Kong implying Yang has illegally withdrawn and transferred large sums of money from his listed company to finance his Holland village in China. The board members of Euro-Asia Agriculture Holding deny all the rumors about their president and furthermore state the deployment of prisoners and forced laborers is common practice in China. In their eyes their boss is a completely honest, smart businessman who knows how get things done in the bureaucratic Chinese system.
The article continues under below notes & footage of Yang Bin
for interviews with and footage of Yang Bin in 2002, refer the following link to youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7pf6Ymoa6g&feature=emb_logo. Footage I: Associated Press (AP) Archive published July 21 2015 Date 30 September 2002 1.Some shots of Holland Village 2. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) Yang Bin, President, Holland Euro-Asia Group: “I want to build a mini-Holland in China and use this to lure Dutch investment here. By myself, I can’t bring in the full range of modern agricultural technology from Europe, so I need to build up a home-away-from-home for Dutch people so that they will come to do business here.”
3. October 3 2002 Various shots inside orchid greenhouse owned by Yang Bin at Holland Village incl. shots of Amsterdam train station in background 4. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin): Yang Bin, President, Holland Euro-Asia Group: “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about me. I think in China if you achieve anything, there’s always going to be misunderstandings. I could stay in Holland with my family and have a good life, why should I come here and suffer all this criticism?” 5. Wide pan open-back truck of construction workers driving down main street of Holland Village and Sign saying “Euro-Asia” in English plus construction worker welding, zooms to North Korean flag flying in background 6. Another SOUNDBITE (Mandarin): Yang Bin: “On the 25th of October, the same day as the Chinese army entered the Korean war, I will go to Sinuijiu to start work there.” 7. Various night shots of Amsterdam train station and main street of Holland Village
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In the midst of all this uproar, Yang is secretly working out his plans with North Korea for setting up the SAR in Sinuiju. The North Koreans are impressed by the incredibly fast construction of Yang’s theme park in Shenyang. Yang wins the full trust of Kim, whom he also personally meets. The stepson of Kim, as Yang is subsequently nicknamed in Pyongyang, allegedly travels several times to North Korea in 2002 to prepare for the launch of the SAR project. He also has a greenhouse built in Pyongyang at his own expense, so the story goes, to convince the regime of his loyalty and the benefits of modern agriculture.
The tycoon makes international headlines when he gives a press conference from Pyongyang on September 23 2002 in which he, flanked by North Korean top officials, announces the establishment of the SAR in Sinuiju, with himself as governor. Given the fact the press conference is taking place in Pyongyang and broadcast on North Korean TV, the world can assume this more than remarkable initiative has been personally sanctioned by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. No fake news in other words. The international community is full of disbelief: how are Yang and the desolate North Korea going to implement and manage this autonomous free trade zone?
Arrest & Prison Sentence
Back in Shenyang, Yang gives another press conference to clarify the SAR plans and comment on the ever louder Chinese allegations of tax fraud. Yang confides everything is going to be fine, the overdue tax will be paid to the Chinese authorities before mid-October and he will start working in Sinuiju on October 25. On October 4, 2002, dozens of Chinese police officers burst into his office/home located in the theme park: Yang is immediately placed under house arrest. A formal arrest follows in November. The Dutch embassy promises consular assistance, but does probably prefer to leave this bizarre case untouched. Yang’s Chinese wife and 2 children await his fate at home in Leiden. The members of the Euro-Asia board are in shock. Trading in Euro-Asia shares is suspended by the Hong Kong financial authorities immediately after Yang’s arrest.
In July 2003, Yang is sentenced by the court in Shenyang to 18 years in prison (!!) for fraud, tax evasion, forgery, bribery and illegal occupation of agricultural land. Most of the charges are related to his Holland Village: Yang is said to have acquired the land illegally and too cheaply under the pretext of wanting to use it for agricultural purposes, including greenhouse construction. Instead he has turned it into a tourist amusement park with the intention of offering thousands of apartments for rent or sale in the future. Euro-Asia is heavily fined: the Hong Kong Stock Exchange finds serious errors in its accounting. The company is delisted, resulting in its total collapse. Article continues under below link with footage
Footage II: Yang Bin 2002 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmrUDVKTYjs&feature=emb_logo Associated Press (AP) Archive Published July 21 2015 Pyongyang – 23 September 2002 1. Yang Bin at press conference announcing his appointment as Chief Executive of North Korea’s Sinuiju Special Administrative Region 2. Yang Bin walking into banquet with North Korean Vice Premier Cho Chang Dok Beijing – 31 October 2002 4. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao walks in to presser 5. Cutaway, press 6. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) Liu Jianchao, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman: “At present, because all the businesses of Yang Bin in China involve many illegal issues, Chinese police have a house-surveillance measure on him and our relevant authorities will further investigate those issues. That is the current situation.” © No copyright infringement intended. All rights belong to their respective copyright owners
In September 2003 Yang loses his court appeal and is thrown into jail. North Korea tries in vain to get Yang released in feverish talks with the Chinese. Thereafter no further news on the fallen tycoon, not internationally, nor in the Dutch press! Nobody knows of his whereabouts, his prison conditions or how he is doing. His theme park in Shenyang resembles a ghost town for 6 years until it is completely demolished in 2009. All traces of Yang are completely erased in the People’s Republic. The derelict site is finally sold to a Chinese real estate company for the construction of … apartments …!
Yang has clearly overplayed his hand and has probably been without any support and allies at the highest government levels in Beijing in 2002. His punishment is a warning to other emerging tycoons and overambitious businessmen in China: even though one can become extremely rich, one is never above the Chinese law (whatever that is) or untouchable. Unbridled money-making in China is not devoid of grave dangers. The central government can intervene whenever it pleases her and assert her authority whenever it suits her. Today a hero, tomorrow a zero: tycoons such as Yang risk to lose their wealth and fortune once they start to think they are bigger than the party.
From hero to zero
The CCP leadership is undoubtedly also very unpleasantly surprised by the Dutchman’s role in North Korea’s plans for Sinuiju. Yang has dared to immerse himself in a politically extremely sensitive business adventure at China’s border without consulting the top of the CCP. Any North Korean scheme for economic reform right at the Chinese frontier should first be discussed with China, Pyongyang’s only ally, and in particular with the Chinese party leadership, Beijing conveys to Kim Jong-il by way of Yang’s prison sentence. The Chinese Communist Party basically demands to have its say in any North Korean reform ideas close to the Chinese borderline.
Has the North Korean leader Kim on purpose never discussed his plans for Sinuiji with his neighbour to emphasize North Korea’s independence from China? Probably. North Korea does not like others including China to dictate its policies. After Yang’s conviction North Korea quickly abandons the Sinuiju SAZ, the project fizzles out … Pyongyang’s focus shifts to its nuclear program, igniting international outrage, again to the great displeasure of its Chinese neighbor. Once more North Korea doesn’t shy away from showing its independence from China’s decision-makers… Article continues after below link
Footage III : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhc4IoLa9bU&feature=emb_logo Associated Press (AP) Archive published July 21 2015 Pyongyang, North Korea – 24 September 2002 1. Chinese businessman Yang Bin taking oath as chief executive of Sinuiju Special Administrative Region (SAR). President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Nam is swearing Yang in
Shenyang, China – 1 October 2002 1. Yang at news conference and holding up certificate from North Korean government showing he is Chief Executive of Sinuiju SAR . 26 September 2002 Various shots of Sinuiju city centre Sinuiju, northwest North Korea incl. women working in shoe factory
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Perhaps the Chinese government also believes Yang’s is actually trying to seek refuge in North Korea to flee his financial troubles in China and Hong Kong. In the days before his house arrest in 2002 the tycoon still brags to the foreign press about his North Korean citizenship and the diplomatic (immunity!) status awaiting him as soon as he takes up the position of governor. This escape route is cut off by his arrest.
Footage IV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCyTYV0vLEw&feature=emb_logo Associated Press (AP) Archive published July 21 2015 Shenyang, China – 3 October 2002 1. Yang Bin at press conference 2. SOUNDBITE: (Mandarin) Yang Bin, Chief Executive, Sinuiju Special Administrative Region: “The tax we owe has nothing to do with the Euro-Asia Agricultural Holdings Company. It mainly concerns some former investments in tourism and real estate of the Euro-Asia Industrial Development Company. Concerning this tax issue, we have a contract with the Shenyang Municipal government. The deadline for us to pay this tax is October 12th, so you can’t call it a tax payment default.” Another SOUNDBITE: (Mandarin) Yang Bin, Chief Executive, Sinuiju Special Administrative Region: “As a company investing in China, it is our duty and responsibility to pay tax. We can pay the tax that we owe before the October 12th deadline so you can’t say that we’re overdue for payment.”
press conference Pyongyang, North Korea – 24 September 2002 President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, swearing in Yang Bin as chief executive of Sinuiju Special Administrative Region (SAR), Yang taking oath and Yang showing journalist map of new Sinuiju SAR © No copyright infringement intended. All rights belong to their respective copyright owners
Prison release in 2016
Fast forward (14 years!) in time: Yang is quietly released on September 26 2016, nobody is taking notice. The world and the Netherlands have forgotten him. He has since divorced, his wife and children are probably still residing in the Netherlands. Where Yang does choose to live after his release is unclear, just in Shenyang or perhaps in North Korea ??? Then he suddenly pops up in Taipei in October 2018: he has a dinner with Taiwanese businessmen and some former high-ranking members of the Guomindang party, who want to explore the investment opportunities in Sinuiju on behalf of South Korean (Lotte) and Malaysian (Genting) consortia. If we have to believe the Taiwanese media it’s not Yang’s first visit to Taipei either….
Whether Yang is speaking on behalf of the North Korean regime is uncertain too. In 2013, the new leader Kim Jong-un issues an edict calling for the creation of special economic zone (SEZ) in Sinuiju. In the SEZ there will be room for free trade and tourism under strict supervision by Pyongyang, a SAZ is no longer on the table. In the SEZ a modern industry is targetted to be erected with foreign aid. The selected area corresponds broadly to the map Yang Bin already has shown the world in 2002. The new modern traffic bridge built by the Chinese in 2014 connecting Dandong with the south of Sinuiju falls into this zone as well. As per today this bridge still ends in North Korean no man’s land, the required infrastructure is missing. The development of the Sinuiju SEZ is stagnating due to the UN sanctions after 2016…
Is it a coincidence Yang Bin is spotted in Taiwan? Taiwan is not an internationally recognized country and not a member of the UN: in principle it does not have to worry about UN sanctions. Obviously this isn’t the policy and position of the Taiwanese government: Taiwan is dependent on the USA for its security and does not want to upset any American government. The Taiwanese authorities do not actively promote economic interaction with North Korea. However, Taiwanese businessmen are free to anticipate any new developments in North Korea and to hold discussions with potential partners. Perhaps in the euphoria following the first Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore in June 2018, some Taiwanese and Asian businessmen do get carried away, expecting a quick relaxation of the UN sanctions..
Given his connections in Pyongyang, Yang Bin is an interesting conversation partner. Should he indeed have traveled to Taipei with the consent of Kim Jong-un, it would be another subtle sneer to Beijing North Korea will absolutely not limit itself to China in its choice of economic partners. No further details are known about this miraculous resurrection of the orchid king. You would think Yang’s resurgence would make a great story for any Dutch news correspondent in China. How has Yang Bin experienced his 14 years in prison? Is he still a diplomatic representative of North Korea? Where does he reside nowadays and what nationality does he actually have? What is his involvement in Kim Jong-un’s plans for Sinuiju SEZ? What is his relationship with the current leadership of the CCP in China? Doesn’t he not fear to end up in jail again?
Gambling Chinese tourists
It goes without saying North Korea, or better say the North Korean people, is suffering enormously under the UN sanctions. The North Korean regime meanwhile facilitates foreign tourism out of a desperate need for foreign currency. Bus loads of curious Chinese tourists do make trips across the border. It has been reported the North Koreans run a simple casino near Rason, just opposite Hunchun (see article https://www.mijngroeve.nl/geschiedenis/noord-korea-2/), where Chinese tourists can spend their Chinese money. Radio Free Asia informed around the end of November 2018 Beijing has urged the North Korean authorities to stop the construction of a super de luxe hotel annex casino in Sinuiju. Xi Jingping’s government is actively campaigning to curb gambling among the Chinese in the border region. And who is – it is whispered – the brain behind this new North Korean casino plan? Exactly, our King of Orchids!