Spying fears cause Obama to ditch Chinese-owned hotel

WASHINGTON • With Chinese spies rummaging through White House e-mails, President Barack Obama has decided not to risk making their spying any easier: He will break with tradition and abandon the Waldorf Astoria, which was bought last year by Chinese investors with deep ties to Beijing's ruling elite, when he attends the United Nations General Assembly next week.

Mr Obama and other officials will instead take up residence a few blocks away at the Lotte New York Palace, whose owners are South Korean.

The White House and the State Department cited several factors, including security concerns.

Why else "would you not stay at the Waldorf?", said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk openly about the new arrangements. The hotel's owner, the Anbang Insurance Group, may not be a household name in China or the United States, but it is highly connected. Its chairman is the husband of the granddaughter of Mr Deng Xiaoping, who was China's leader from 1978 to 1992. Its board of directors includes Mr Chen Xiaolu, a former officer in the People's Liberation Army and the son of Marshal Chen Yi, who served as foreign minister.

Anbang's deal to buy the hotel called for a major renovation, raising concerns in Washington about whether it would remain a secure location for official functions, despite the fact that its previous owner, Hilton Worldwide, agreed to manage the hotel for the next 100 years.

Frustration has risen in Washington over hacking attacks on government databases and e-mail servers that officials have linked to China. "Obviously, there are a range of considerations that influence where the President will stay when he's not at the White House," Mr Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, told reporters last Friday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'Spying fears cause Obama to ditch Chinese-owned hotel'. Print Edition | Subscribe