Zhang and Southland mayor could discuss 'belt and road'

Gary Tong
Gary Tong
The Chinese "belt and road" initiative could form part of future discussions Southland's mayor has with a potential business adviser who is at the centre of a national political scandal.

Southland Mayor Gary Tong is in China at the moment, building his relationship with millionaire Yikun Zhang on a trip paid for by Mr Zhang.

Mr Zhang, an Auckland resident, has come to prominence in the last few days as outgoing National MP Jami-Lee Ross alleged Mr Zhang made a $100,000 donation which opposition leader Simon Bridges wanted to have illegally concealed in smaller chunks.

Mr Tong told Newshub yesterday Mr Zhang was "disappointed" to be embroiled in the scandal which is still unfolding, as allegations of harassment and affairs are levelled at Mr Ross.

Mr Tong told the Otago Daily Times he was not in China with Mr Zhang to negotiate anything.

He has said previously Mr Zhang's interest in Southland sprang from him being impressed with the Southland Regional Development Strategy.

"[I am] just watching, listening and learning," he said yesterday.

"I am very well up with the [belt and road] initiative and it may well be part of the discussions in the future."

The initiative seeks to enhance economic growth across the traditional Chinese trade routes over land to Europe and by sea through the Pacific, with an emphasis on infrastructure development.

Mr Tong has previously said Mr Zhang has no interest in acquiring property in Southland.

Southland deputy mayor Paul Duffy said Mr Tong was driven by the desire to find opportunities for Southland.

"Anything that involves Southland district will come back to the council table," Mr Duffy said.

He felt sorry for Mr Zhang, who had done "nothing wrong".

Other councils in Otago and Southland were asked by the Otago Daily Times yesterday whether they had had any contact with Mr Zhang.

The Otago Regional Council, Central Otago District Council, and Queenstown District Council denied meeting Mr Zhang.

Clutha District Mayor Brian Cadogan also said he had not had any contact with Mr Zhang but had been offered a trip to China last year out of the blue from Orient Corporation, an Auckland-based company he was unfamiliar with, who offered to pay his travel costs.

The letter invited Mr Cadogan to China for three days- departing on Friday night, and returning Monday evening. He was invited to meet two local Government officials. Mr Cadogan did not even answer the letter.

"It's not what I'm about."

Orient Corporation co-founder Larry Mao did not respond to requests for comment yesterday afternoon.

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