Obama Blocks China’s Second-Richest Man From Owning Wind Farm Near Secret Navy Base
President Obama made a fascinating move yesterday in issuing an executive order prohibiting a Chinese company from owning and operating a wind farm near the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility in Boardman, Ore. The base is said to be home to a fleet of unmanned drones and planes specializing in electronic warfare.
The order marks the first time in 22 years that a president has scotched the foreign acquisition of a business in the U.S.
In his executive order, the president stated that “there is credible evidence” that the ownership group, comprising Ralls Corporation, the Sany Group, and a group of Chinese nationals, “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.”
The Sany Group is controlled by China’s second-richest man, Liang Wengen, who has recently been appointed to the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party. In our most recent tally of global billionaires, Forbes estimated his net worth at $8.1 billion.
This move has been brewing for awhile. The Navy had voiced objections to the proximity of the wind farm to its base months ago. And Ralls had earlier sued the U.S. Government for blocking the project, for which it was hoping to collect $25 million in federal renewable energy tax credits. Ralls dropped the lawsuit a week ago. The company has acquired two other wind projects, in Massachusetts and Texas — neither of which appear to have drawn the objection of the feds.
The president didn’t just order the Chinese group to divest the assets, but to remove “all items, structures, or other physical objects or installations of any kind (including concerete foundations) that the Companies or persons on behalf of the Companies have stockpiled, stored, deposited, installed or affixed thereon.”
Neither the presidential order, nor a statement from the Treasury Department detailed any particular threats that the Chinese companies pose to the Navy base. But it’s not hard to imagine that the Chinese government could seek to install surveillance devices inside the turbine towers with the intent of watching drone flights or listening to base communications.
No matter how nice a guy Liang Wengen might be, it seems a wise move not to give the Chinese government a listening post just outside a base full of military secrets. Liang founded Sany in 1987 and made his fortune building cranes and heavy construction equipment that has helped enable China’s building boom.
There are a couple of other Chinese companies that will view this presidential move with great interest. China’s state-controlled oil company Cnooc is seeking to buy Canada’s Nexen, and needs U.S. approval to take over Nexen fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Wanxiang Group is also vying to acquire battery company A123 Systems.
If wind turbines could serve as communist listening posts, might Nexen’s offshore oil platforms or drilling rigs pose a similar threat? Maybe. But Chinese secret agents could just as easily outfit a high-rise apartment building with survelliance gear. Let’s hope the action against Sany and Ralls is a one-off and not the precursor to political contretemps.