Paper tycoon hails Shanghai, thrives in China

Yang Meiping
As chairman and president of Sinar Mas Group, Tjie Goan Oei has worked in Shanghai for 23 long years and become an honorary citizen of Shanghai.
Yang Meiping
Paper tycoon hails Shanghai, thrives in China
Ti Gong

Tjie Goan Oei (right) at the Asia Pulp & Paper Group booth during the 2nd China International Import Expo in 2019

As chairman and president of Sinar Mas Group, Indonesia-born Singaporean Tjie Goan Oei, a new honorary citizen of Shanghai, has worked in the city for 23 years, with APP (Asia Pulp & Paper) one of its core sectors and a trade name for pulp and paper manufacturing companies mainly in Indonesia and China.

The eldest son of Sinar Mas Group founder Eka Tjipta Widjaja, Oei was born in Indonesia in 1944. He came to China in 1960 and studied computational mathematics in Peking University.

In 1991, Oei took over the business from his father and set sights on the Chinese market. Under his leadership, APP China set up its headquarters in Shanghai in 1998.

"My ancestors are from Quanzhou, Fujian Province. Though I was born in Indonesia, my study experiences in China made me realize my emotional attachment to my home country," Oei told Shanghai Daily. "China is a developing country. Overseas Chinese entrepreneurs like me always bear in mind the responsibility to make contributions to our home country."

Paper tycoon hails Shanghai, thrives in China

Tjie Goan Oei's medal and certificate for the Honorary Citizenship of Shanghai award

Oei said he chose Shanghai as the location of the company's headquarters because he values the city's opening-up spirit and its rapid economic growth since the 1990s.

APP China has invested and constructed a batch of paper-making bases in the Yangtze River Delta region. Its Gold East facility in Jiangsu Province is the single largest coated paper mill in the world, while APP Ningbo in Zhejiang Province is one of the world's biggest producers of white boards, which can be used in different product packaging, such as food, drugs and cosmetics.

"For the paper-making industry, I have my own feelings," said Oei. "Paper-making is one of the four great inventions of China and the pride of our nation. It's our responsibility and mission to carry forward this ancient civilization and bring the sustainable development concept as well as advanced paper-making technology to China."

In a bid for sustainable development, APP has planted more than 270,000 hectares of forest in Guangdong, Hainan and Yunnan provinces as well as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Paper tycoon hails Shanghai, thrives in China
Ti Gong

APP moved its China headquarters to the Sinar Mas Plaza, also known as the White Magnolia Plaza, the highest building on the west bank of the Huangpu River, in 2019.

APP China has also developed a handful of urban complex projects in Shanghai, including the Sinar Mas Plaza and the Landmark Center in Hongkou District, the Arch Shanghai in Changning District, and the Bund Center in Huangpu District.

Apart from the commercial projects, Oei and his company are also involved in social and charity activities.

Oei has set up a few educational foundations for Peking University since 1993, and was therefore named the university's honorary alumni in 2007.

APP China donated 15 million yuan (US$2.15 million) to support the construction of the World Expo 2010 Shanghai's China Pavilion. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, the company donated 100 million yuan as well as goods worth of 350,000 yuan.

Through the Shanghai Overseas Chinese Foundation, the company donated 10 million yuan to Henan Province for flood relief last year, and another 10 million yuan for Shanghai's fight against the resurgence of the pandemic early this year.

"Shanghai and other parts of the country have been experiencing a difficult time, including repeated impact on work and life amid the pandemic," said Oei. "I'm always acutely concerned and have been encouraging our employees."

Oei said when holding on to the business, the company also realized that this could be a window of opportunity for the enterprise to transform itself.

"We want to seize the opportunity and carry out green transformation and digital transformation measures," he said. "The group has been firm in its long-term and sustainable development strategy, and China has always been our first choice for investment."

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