This is the third in a three-part series on China’s inroads in the U.S. energy industry. The first part investigates the links between former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Chinese officials behind a methanol plant bid in Texas. The second part looks at the historically black community near the proposed site, which is already flanked by chemical plants. This project follows a series on another push by Chinese politician-investors and U.S. officials for a methanol plant in a predominantly black neighborhood in St. James Parish, Louisiana.
Chinese diplomats say they will continue to press U.S. officials to help track down and repatriate corrupt Chinese officials who have fled to or stashed assets in the U.S. amid Beijing’s sweeping anti-graft campaign.
“There should be no such thing as a safe haven for corrupt officials,” Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington told Al Jazeera.
“No matter how far they run away and how long they hide away, they will be hunted down by the Chinese government, and justice will be served.”
The comment from the Chinese Embassy came amid an Al Jazeera investigation into Chinese politician-entrepreneurs investing in the U.S. energy industry. The officials behind bids for methanol plants in Louisiana and Texas have all come under scrutiny in the Chinese press in recent years.
In mid-2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping turned up the heat on an anti-corruption campaign targeting Communist Party officials, launched at the start of his administration in November 2012. In particular, officials were alarmed by the conviction and life sentence of onetime rising political star Bo Xilai for sweeping graft.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Xi agreed to ramp up efforts to collaborate “against corruption during their meeting on the sidelines of APEC [the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit]” in November 2014, Zhu said. In Beijing’s latest bid to ramp up collaborations with the U.S., Wang Qishan, the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which oversees anti-graft measures within the party, is reportedly preparing to visit the U.S. to discuss the potential extradition of fugitive officials and repatriation of funds, The Financial Times reported on March 17.
To date, the U.S. government has yet to investigate, extradite or seize the assets of any Chinese officials under scrutiny in the Xi administration’s anti-graft campaign, likely because the U.S. and China have no extradition treaty. In May 2014, Chinese state media reported that more than 1,000 allegedly corrupt Chinese officials have sought refuge in the U.S.
Zhu was unable to offer specifics on the number of present or former Chinese officials suspected of corruption seeking refuge or a safe haven for assets in the United States. “As you may understand, due to the complex nature of these cases, I cannot provide you with more details at this stage,” he said.
But it will take more than an exchange of commitments between heads of state and diplomats to bring to justice China’s ruling class runaways, Zhu said.
“The Chinese side regards it necessary for China and the U.S. to explore effective and new means to carry forward this current cooperation,” he added. “The Chinese side will keep in touch with American side in this regard.”
Asked what it is doing to help bring what Beijing calls corrupt officials to justice, the U.S. Justice Department said that it discusses how to deal with fugitives in both countries at the annual U.S.-China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation (JLG).
“The most recent JLG met December 2014 in Beijing, where the U.S. and China noted their joint accomplishments over the past year — including regarding fugitives — and committed to continuing cooperation in the coming year,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr, not specifying whether any Chinese officials suspected of corruption are known to be living in the U.S.
As Xi stepped up his anti-corruption campaign in 2013, many of China’s ruling elite — whether they had come under scrutiny or not — hurried to put their assets in more stable climates. In particular, Canada and the United States saw influxes of property purchases and investor immigration applications from China’s wealthy, immigration lawyers told Al Jazeera at the time.
As explored in Al Jazeera investigations, some Chinese politicians and business tycoons have sunk assets into energy projects, including methanol plants, at key points in China’s crackdown on corruption.
In 2013, for example, Wang Jinshu — a petrochemical industry tycoon, the Communist Party secretary for the northeastern Chinese village of Yuhuang and a delegate to the National People’s Congress — started coming under fire in the Chinese media, which is not something common for a politician at his level, for allegedly violating environmental laws in Heze at the plant at the headquarters of his umbrella company, Shandong Yuhuang.
Around that time, Wang started parking assets in the United States. In 2013, just after he started coming under fire in the Chinese media, he purchased two homes valued at over $1 million in the Houston suburbs. He didn’t live there, local tax authorities told Al Jazeera in January; his company’s U.S. subsidiary, Yuhuang Chemical Inc., was paying the bills for the homes.
In July 2014, U.S. local and state officials decided to move forward with Wang’s bid to build a $1.85 billion methanol plant in an underserved black neighborhood of St. James Parish, Louisiana, halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Two Chinese politician-tycoons behind a similar bid to build a larger, $4.5 billion methanol plant beside a black community in Texas City, Texas, have also in recent years come under scrutiny in the Chinese press for, in one’s case, what was described as “mysterious” business practices and, in the other’s, allegations that a chemical plant of his poisoned hundreds of nearby residents.
Gov. Bobby Jindal helped facilitate the Louisiana deal, and the administration of another Republican likely presidential candidate, then-Gov. Rick Perry, reportedly helped direct the Texas City project to local officials.