Guarding the ‘Safety’ of the United States by Strangling Chinese Acquisitions

China Ampang Insurance Group recently spent $1.95 billion to purchase the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. According to the details of the contract, the earliest the deal will be completed is at the end of December this year. In recent developments, however, relevant U.S. authorities have come out and declared that they will need to conduct investigations into the Waldorf’s acquisition. Their reasoning for this move was that they were concerned that the Ampang Group was going to renovate and alter the Waldorf, and to thereafter use the property as a base for wiretapping and espionage operations. This so-called “investigation” is an inauspicious omen, and the whole buying process is likely to turn foul from here on in. Frankly, there are just too many historical parallels to back this assertion up.

Let me give just one as an example. In May of 2000, a subdivision of Xinhua News Agency based in Washington purchased a second-hand building to use for its operations. The entire purchase process was arranged correctly, and the necessary contracts were all signed and handed to the seller. One month later, a local right-wing newspaper suddenly started voicing its discontent over the deal. It ran a series of daily articles asserting that Xinhua News Agency reporters were conducting espionage activities in the United States and that there was a hidden agenda behind Xinhua’s acquisition of the new building.

Shortly afterward, relevant U.S. authorities also started to speak unwarrantedly of the Xinhua deal, declaring that the transaction would thereafter be considered invalid. Their reasoning for this was that the building in question was located too close to the Pentagon and that it would be possible for Xinhua to eavesdrop on secret U.S. military communications. There was a rumor circulating at that time that new eavesdropping technologies enabled agents to make use of minute vibrations in windowpanes to listen in on office conversations from across long distances. This effectively means that there were people in the United States who wanted to accuse Chinese reporters of espionage activities.

In response to this the Huanqiu Times ran a front-page article titled “U.S. refuses to let Xinhua acquire building”, and with hard evidence refuted the allegations made by Washington. They also countered with their own slightly harsh criticisms of the United States, suggesting that “all this increased vigilance and spy hunting is sending the White House cross-eyed.” And with the United States’ deep infatuation with conducting espionage against other countries – the surveillance activities it conducts across the globe of various key foreign ministers in both the U.S. and at the United Nations – Chinese embassies and consulates are, surprisingly, looked upon rather favorably. This is because the U.S. is willing to resort to dirty tricks to achieve its ends.

If you want to hear one factual story that will leave you shocked, here it is: The U.S. Consulate in China isn’t very big, but its grounds are thick with trees. The consulate staff often like to walk the grounds and talk shop during their leisure time. In order to pry into what these staff members were discussing, U.S. special agents planted countless numbers of listening devices in the trees surrounding the premises.

When you consider these kinds of sleights of hand, it seems that Americans are more worthy of being known as “commoners with lordly appetites.” Even in day-to-day business and real estate transactions between U.S. and Chinese companies, there is an emerging sense of trepidation. And when talk of national security starts to surface, things become unpliable and stifling.

If the various U.S. authorities overseeing this Waldorf acquisition follow the shadowy precedents applied in previous Chinese acquisitions – that is, finding excuses for why it can’t go ahead – then the whole deal will very likely go sour. On the one hand, the Waldorf is a hotel of immense scale: foreign heads of state often stay in the 180 rooms located within the tower, and many of its clientele include U.S. government officials, celebrities, billionaires and foreign dignitaries. From the American perspective, the Waldorf’s new Chinese owners will most certainly install eavesdropping devices and the like during the refurbishment process, and consequently this will pose a threat to U.S. national security.

On the other hand – and as some Chinese netizens have been keen to point out – the real thing that the U.S. government is afraid of is that any renovations to the Waldorf will expose a secret: that the Waldorf already has various monitoring systems installed throughout it, and that the U.S. has been spying on important guests and collecting their secrets for many years. Once this secret has been made public, it will embroil various arms of the U.S. government in yet another bitter scandal.

The U.S. government should justify its reasoning for this unwarranted intervention into Ampang Insurance Group’s purchase and, in return, Ampang should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Even if the sale falls through, it will at least expose the real face of America to the world.

Those Chinese companies that are looking to doing business within the United States ought first to take stock of the various processes and obstacles involved in doing business there. You don’t want to invest a fortune in money and manpower only to then lose it all when the U.S. government steps in and takes it away – all in the name of “national security.”

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