By Megha Rajagopalan
BEIJING, Dec 31 (Reuters) - An eccentric Chinese recycling magnate said on Tuesday he was preparing to open negotiations to buy the New York Times Co..
Chen Guangbiao, a well-known philanthropist, is something of a celebrity in China. During a particularly murky bout of pollution in January, the ebullient and tireless self-promoter handed out free cans of "fresh air".
But Chen says he is perfectly serious in his bid to buy the Times, which he said he had been contemplating for more than two years. He said he expected to discuss the matter on Jan. 5, when he is due to meet a "leading shareholder" in New York.
"There's nothing that can't be bought for the right price," Chen told Reuters.
It is unlikely that the Times, which has long been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family, would sell to Chen.
A spokeswoman for the New York Times, contacted after initial Chinese media reports about Chen's offer, said the company did not comment on rumours.
The company's chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., said recently that the Times was not for sale.
Chen believes the Times is worth $1 billion, but said he would be willing to negotiate.
He said that because his funds were limited, he had persuaded a Hong Kong tycoon to put in $600 million while he would pay the rest. He said the tycoon was not ready to reveal his identity.
"If we act in sincerity and good faith, I believe the Times chairman will change his way of thinking," he said.
Chen said if he was unable to buy the New York Times, he would settle for becoming a controlling stakeholder, and failing that, would simply buy a stake.
Hurun's Rich List of China's super-wealthy put the magnate's wealth at about $740 million in 2012. Chen said he would not hesitate to sell off most of his assets if it enabled him to buy the Times.
Chen said his aim was not to push any political agenda, but rather his personal ideals of "peace on earth, protecting the environment and philanthropy".
He attracted attention in August 2012 when he bought a half-page advertisement in the New York Times stating that an island chain at the centre of a dispute with Japan had belonged to China since antiquity.
"After that, I realised that the Times' influence all over the world is incredibly vast," he said. "Every government and embassy, all around the world, pays attention to the New York Times."
The Times earned the ire of the Chinese government in 2012 with a report about the wealth of former Premier Wen Jiabao. The Times website has been blocked since then.
Chen said it was natural for the government to block the site because the report on Wen "contained biased and negative things that were not verified".
"If I acquire the Times, the paper will only report the truth and must verify all information," he said, adding that he would like every Chinese household to subscribe to the paper.
If his offer failed, Chen said he would extend offers to CNN, the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal.
"As long as they have some influence, I'm still willing to consider buying lesser media outlets," he said.