Labour peer reportedly travelled to Sichuan province to heap praise on plan to recreate famous liner 1,200km from the sea
He was one of the key salesmen of New Labour, a Westminster wheeler-dealer whose backstage machinations and silver tongue saw him nicknamed Britain’s svengali of spin.
Now, Tony Blair’s former communications chief Peter Mandelson is pushing a rather different project: the New Titanic, a 1bn yuan (£116m) bid to rebuild the doomed passenger liner in a landlocked Chinese county more than 1,200km from the sea.
On Wednesday, more than a century after RMS Titanic sank claiming more than 1,500 lives, Mandelson reportedly travelled to Sichuan province’s Daying county to take part in what local media described as a “solemn ceremony” to officially kick off construction of the full-scale replica.
The 269-metre New Titanic is the centrepiece of a high-end tourist resort being built in Daying, about 115km east of Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu.
“This is a great project,” Mandelson was quoted as saying during Wednesday’s keel-laying event by news website Tencent Tourism.
Qixing Energy Investment, the Chinese firm behind the doomed liner’s revival, has faced criticism that it is seeking to profit from the 1912 catastrophe, which occurred during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
But Mandelson reportedly told guests at the ceremony those behind the venture were doing “a remarkable job” in rebuilding the liner.
The Labour peer’s support for the New Titanic project appears to stem from his role as the president of the Belgravia-based Great Britain China Centre, which promotes ties between the two countries.
Mandelson is also chairman of a controversial consultancy called Global Counsel.
Founded in 2010 the group claims to help “companies and investors across a wide range of sectors anticipate the ways in which politics, regulation and public policymaking create both risk and opportunity – and to develop and implement strategies to meet these challenges”.
The firm’s website says it offers to help clients with “navigating the critical area between business, politics and policymaking”.
The Chinese replica of the Titanic will be put on show far from any icebergs, at Sichuan’s Romandisea resort on the banks of the Qijiang river.
The China Daily, a state-run English language newspaper, said the vessel would be permanently moored there and was designed to “boost development of the local tourism sector”.
Su Shaojun, one of the project’s main investors, said the New Titanic would feature replicas of the liner’s banquet hall and first-class guesthouse.
“Many blueprint fragments found their way into the hands of collectors or remained missing. We spent many years collecting the blueprints from many parts of the world and managed to obtain most of them,” he was quoted as saying.
Guests and visitors will also enjoy modernity amenities such as Wi-Fi and a spa.
Curtis Schnell, a veteran Hollywood production designer who has been hired to work on the project, told Reuters the project was being handled in a “very respectful way”, rejecting criticism that it was exploiting the disaster.
Those behind the New Titanic attempted to explain their project in a tweet earlier this month.
“Titanic is an epic tragedy of a century ago, but the glory of the humanity has existed forever and should be commemorated and inherited,” they wrote.
Villagers in Daying told Reuters they feared they might be evicted from their homes to make way for the replica ship. “If we’re not going to have to move out of here then that will be really good for us. Us old folks might do a little business in that case,” said local farmer Li Jieyong, 60.
“But then if we have to move then that won’t be any good. They wouldn’t provide enough compensation for us to get by.”