Even as US presidential candidate Donald Trump aggressively condemned Beijing, his hotel firm pursued a lucrative business deal with a giant state-owned Chinese firm headed by a top Communist official, sources say.
Trump has long declared Beijing to be America’s “enemy”, but his Trump Hotel Collection (THC) negotiated with the State Grid Corporation of China -- an electricity company that is the country’s largest state-owned enterprise -- to brand and manage a major development in the capital, according to sources with direct knowledge of the talks.
The process resulted in a memorandum of understanding for a deal potentially worth between $100 million and $150 million over 15 years, Robby Qiu, the former director of Trump’s Greater China office told AFP.
The discussions were confirmed by a source who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive business information.
Trump has repeatedly been accused of double standards during the election campaign, and questions have been raised about possible conflicts of interest due to his overseas deals.
China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are a key element of the Communist party’s control over the world’s second-largest economy, and seen as important tools for pursuing its policy and geopolitical objectives.
Unlike private firms, their top executives are directly appointed by the ruling party, and often hold senior party positions.
During his White House bid, Trump has frequently excoriated China, claiming it has stolen millions of American jobs through distorted trade policies and currency manipulation.
In his 2011 book “Time to Get Tough” -- released as he pondered a presidential campaign -- he called China’s leaders “our enemy”.
“What else do you call the people who are destroying your children and grandchildren’s future... who are ruining our way of life?” he wrote.
“We shouldn’t entertain Communists and beg for a few tiny contracts.”
The negotiations with State Grid -- whose then chairman Liu Zhenya had been an alternate member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee -- began a little over two years later.
Derek Scissors, an expert on US-China business relations at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP: “It does make him look considerably worse, in my view, to be working with branches of the Chinese state after so sharply criticising the policies of the Chinese state.”
State Grid is listed as the world’s second largest company by revenues in the Forbes Global 500 and provides electricity around 1.1 billion people across China.
Earlier this year Australia rejected a bid by it to purchase a regional electricity utility over concerns the deal would be “contrary to the national interest”.
Several attempts by Chinese SOEs to invest in US firms and infrastructure have previously been blocked by Washington on security grounds.
- ‘A great future in China’ -
THC, since renamed Trump Hotels, manages Trump’s portfolio of luxury accommodations and has struck licensing and management deals for Trump-branded hotels, residences and golf courses in countries from Panama to Azerbaijan and Indonesia.
Trump has said he has 121 projects abroad, telling Vanity Fair they include “numerous deals” in China.
His companies’ current activities in the Asian country remain unclear.