Earlier this year, plans were announced for a $500 million Chinese theme park to be built an hour out of Sydney. The 15-hectare park, or Cultural Village as they’re now calling it, will have seven areas including a water town, a theatre to rival the Sydney Opera House and a kids’ section totally devoted to adorably terrifying robotic panda replicants.

The project is completely funded by private Chinese backers and is being pitched as a totally not-bat-shit-crazy way to strengthen relations between the two countries. The park will represent not only Chinese culture but also include scale replicas of iconic Chinese landmarks. They’re promoting it as a great alternative to actually going to China. Lesson: If you find your country’s issues are making tourism hard to sell, just build a new country somewhere else.

Spokeswoman Amanda Li was kind enough to talk us through this kind of confusing concept.

VICE: I guess starting with the obvious question, why build a $500 million Chinese theme park in Australia?
Amanda Li: Because the board members are all Australian now. It came to their minds about three years ago, when they were thinking about something they could do for their mother country. And something they could also do for their current country, so we build here.

Around the world we have Chinatowns, so Chinese culture is actually very popular and welcome all over the world. So this group of Australians, who were originally from China, thought what shall we do for Chinese culture in Australia? This is the best way to deliver the authentic old Chinese ways and culture in Australia.

I suppose that makes sense. And this all being funded from China?
Yes, this project will be funded by Chinese private companies.

Let’s talk about your target audience. It’s not only tourists, but also local Chinese who are living in Australia, yeah?
Definitely. It’s not just for the Chinese people but it’s for all the world. Especially for the locals, because western people, local people, they love Chinese culture. Right?

So this theme park, this cultural village, shows the best of Chinese culture. I think people will come again and again. The target customer isn’t the tourist, it’s the professors, and the scholars. We’ll have an academy, something higher than just entertainment, so people or professors or scholars can do some research. Do lots of research. Maybe have an exchange of ideas conference, something like that. It’s not just entertainment. We have culture, we have education, we have everything. It’s a very comprehensive cultural village.

But what’s the draw card of this park over just going to China and seeing all this stuff for real?
Because China is very big. It’s so big that even the Chinese people can’t go to every corner of China in just a few days. So this cultural village will deliver the whole, main Chinese culture and minimise the travel. They don’t need to go all over China, they can just come here to enjoy Chinese culture in this park. They can enjoy it all, but in the great environment and the great weather of Australia. It’s very good for enjoying the culture thing in one small area.

Do you think this is the beginning of a new type of tourism? Will countries just build replicas of all the best bits so people don’t need to travel to see them?
It’s hard to tell, if their culture is longer than five thousand years then I think they could probably have the same idea.

Do you have to have over five thousand years of culture to have a theme park?
Yes, I think so.

It sounds like you have everything covered. Do you think this project will improve the relationship between Australia and China?
Yes, it definitely will improve everything. And of course it’s going to make the relations between these two cultures closer. It’s a diplomatic everything.

Will this be the only one, or will you build these in other countries?
We really do want to develop this kind of model all over the world. This is our dream, but at this stage we want to just build in Australia. We want to see the result because it’s not a small project. It will be finished around 2020, so after that, when people love it, then we’ll build another one in another country.

So there you have it. We still have no idea why this is being built, other than someone is honoring a country with rampant poverty by investing $500 million dollars somewhere else. But one thing’s for sure, one of those pandas is definitely getting stolen.

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