AKUREYRI, Iceland – This isolated expanse of land is pocked by steaming fissures, molten mud pools and lava fields — perhaps an unlikely place for a Chinese tycoon to build a resort.

But that’s exactly what Huang Nubo wants to do. And the deal, if approved, will account for a big chunk of this remote island nation.

“Nature there is very beautiful,” said the 55-year-old former Chinese government official — batting back allegations that the deal could give China a strategic foothold into the Arctic Circle, where melting ice caps may one day open more shipping lanes and potentially save a fortune in transporting goods.

But the $8.8 million deal has been put on ice for now by the Interior Ministry, which has written to Huang asking him why he wants to buy so much land –120 square miles in all, or 0.3 percent of the country’s territory.

Huang’s background in the Chinese communist establishment has fueled some of the speculation that the land deal may be about more than just tourism and a love of nature.

He founded his company, the Zhongkun Group, in 1995 after working in the government’s propaganda department and Ministry of Construction.

Huang ranked 161st last year on Forbes magazine’s list of Chinese entrepreneurs with a fortune estimated at $890 million.

The avid mountain climber has firmly rejected suggestions that the project might be a covert attempt by Beijing to establish an Arctic presence — amid wider concerns that China is using its newfound status as a global superpower to gobble up land and resources around the world.

Huang said the site in Iceland’s northeast is merely due to be one of a string of exclusive nature retreats in China, the United States and Scandinavia.

Access would be a 45-minute flight from the capital, Reykjavik, to the town of Akureyri in the island’s north, then either another flight or a drive over rural roads. The first phase of the project could be completed by 2015.

Iceland has been strapped for cash since all of its major banks collapsed within a week of one another in October 2008, wrecking the country’s economy and sending its currency plunging.