U.S. Officials Check Out of Chinese-Owned Waldorf
New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, whose opening in 1931 was said by U.S. President Herbert Hoover to mark “the measure of a nation’s growth in power,” was acquired last year by China’s Anbang Insurance Group. As Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy, security concerns following the sale appear to have ended the hotel’s traditional role as the base of U.S. delegation to the annual U.N. General Assembly.
The U.S. decision to move, which was first reported by the Associated Press, comes nearly one year after a Chinese firm, Anbang Insurance Group, purchased the Waldorf Astoria in October 2014 for nearly $2 billion. After forming a partnership with Hilton Worldwide Holdings, which will manage the hotel for another 100 years, the company announced plans to renovate the building. A spokesperson from Hilton said that the deal received a green light from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal office that assesses whether foreign investments jeopardize the United States’ national security. Still, the purchase has prompted fears Chinese officials might install surveillance equipment to allow them to eavesdrop on confidential talks among the U.S. president and his advisors.
[…] Some observers say the U.S. has overacted.
“It is absurd to think that the Chinese purchase of a New York hotel is something other than an investment,” Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador to China told CBS News. “There are sectors of the economy where the U.S. has legitimate concerns, but it is laughable to think that a Chinese buyer of a New York landmark hotel is some kind of a plot.” [Source]
Any excessive caution over the refurbishment may have been spurred by embarrassing memories of the infestation of the Moscow embassy’s chancery building during its construction in the 1980s.
The discovery this summer of suspected Israeli hacking attacks on European hotels that hosted nuclear talks with Iran demonstrated the attractiveness of such venues as espionage targets. Attackers reportedly gained access to computer records, surveillance cameras, and phone and Wi-Fi networks, as well as microphones in elevators and alarms. The episode also showed that one need not own a building to thoroughly compromise it.
The Anbang Group is chaired by Deng Xiaoping’s grandson-in-law Wu Xiaohui. Following the Waldorf’s acquisition last October, searches for the term “Deng [Xiaoping] + son in law” were blocked on Sina Weibo.