HUNTINGTON — As U.S. relations with China remain tense, questions continue to swirl around the supposed multibillion-dollar investment that country has stated it plans to make in West Virginia, the latest coming from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said he wonders about China’s motives.
Last week in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to discuss U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) production and its role in the global marketplace, Manchin — ranking member of the committee — said he was dubious over China’s good will toward the Mountain State.
“Do you all know about this deal they want to make with West Virginia, my state? They’ve said they’re going to invest $83 billion over 20 years,” Manchin said in the hearing. “You can imagine that kind of carrot being swung out there. It’s tremendous for a small state. Our budget is only $4 billion a year and they’re going to invest $83 billion. What would be their interest? We cannot find out one iota of what the [memorandum of understanding] is. I have asked them directly and cannot get a direct answer about their investments.”
Manchin continued by saying he believes China wants the LNG, propane, ethane and butane, but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has not done a review on such a request.
“It could take away our building stock for manufacturing,” he said. “And I can’t believe that this administration would allow in any way, shape or form for this project to go on.
“There’s another type of problem with American Ethane. American Ethane is run by a Russian oligarch. What they’re doing here in America to take out our building stock ... I don’t know why we haven’t stepped up and slapped a stop and desist order on this.”
State officials announced in 2017 the state Department of Commerce entered into an agreement with the China Energy Investment Corp. on a number of shale gas development and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia over the next 20 years — a supposed $83.7 billion investment.
Since the announcement, few details have been unveiled. Despite efforts from news outlets, including The Herald-Dispatch, to receive a copy of the memorandum of understanding signed between the state and the corporation, it has been sealed by a judge.
Though Gov. Jim Justice could not be reached for comment for this story, he said at the time he anticipated shovels in the ground within 10 months. Then-Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher made a similar statement. And while Justice stated the project had the support of President Donald Trump, Trump’s trade dispute with China may have stalled any projects.
Now running for governor against Justice, Thrasher said through a spokesperson that his office worked with China Energy on an investment deal just as they would with any other company or business.
“We did not offer them any incentives, and they did not ask for any,” Thrasher said. “China Energy never suggested to me that they had any desire to take out our resources. China Energy would add value to our natural resources by building bricks-and-mortar facilities within our state, hiring our people and paying taxes. This is exactly what U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said [Wednesday] morning on MetroNews’ ‘Talkline’ [radio program] that he would love to see and would welcome.
“The memorandum of understanding was not a binding document, but simply an outline of our discussion, which encapsulated our understanding of the path forward. This was done as President Donald Trump was negotiating trade deals with China, and we were supporting the president. I’m shocked that anyone would think that showing an interest in investing in West Virginia is a bad thing.”
Rumors have swirled Manchin may leave Congress to run for governor. He reportedly told Politico reporter Burgess Everett last week he was still undecided.