Bankrupt Caribbean Paradise Woos Chinese Tourists—and Their Cash

Over the years, Puerto Rico has wooed visitors and investors with beaches, sun, tax breaks and splashy public works. Now the Caribbean island wants to add an outpost of Chinese culture, complete with graceful pavilions and regional cuisine.

The same territory that racked up more than $70 billion of debt has a new plan for spurring its long-suffering economy: have private investors build a $200 million China-themed center in Arecibo, on a former sugar-cane field about an hour outside San Juan. The investors, assembled by a Chinese law and development firm, plan to break ground in May and envision 39 structures to highlight foods, music and entertainment.

Private investors plan on building a China-themed center on this empty land in Arecibo.

Photographer: Xaviera Garcia/Bloomberg

The plan, which must overcome both China’s new restrictions on foreign investment and the commonwealth’s checkered history of ambitious development, is part of a wider strategy to lure foreign money to a territory that defaulted and in May tumbled into bankruptcy. A decade-long recession has left the economy and infrastructure in dire condition, but years of excessive borrowing to fill budget gaps has shut the commonwealth out of the municipal-bond market.

“Puerto Rico really cannot at this point go to the market and issue bonds and borrow money for public investment,” said Manuel Laboy, the island’s secretary of economic development and commerce. “It has to be based on private investment.”

Help From Abroad

Enter China. Puerto Rico is looking to capitalize on the nation’s recent global investment surge through its ‘One Belt, One Road’ infrastructure initiative that may fuel as much as  
$500 billion of international investment. The Americas — including some of Puerto Rico’s Caribbean neighbors like Cuba and the Bahamas — have already been a popular investment destination for Chinese companies for years.

Ricardo Rossello, center, and executives…

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