In 2015, a company called GH America Investment Group bought 130,000 acres of land in Val Verde County, Texas. A wind farm project had been proposed at the site, but the project raised doubts for many security experts who were concerned about the company’s ties with China. GH America Investment Group is a subsidiary of Guanghui Group that is, in turn, controlled by a Xinjiang-based businessman Sun Guangxin, who has strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
According to Forbes, Sun is the richest person in Western Xinjiang with a net worth of about $1.8 billion. A former PLA officer, he was also the vice-chairman of the Xinjiang Provincial Youth Federation. A report by Moody’s Investors Service from November showed that 40.9 percent of Guanghui Group would soon be acquired by Shenergy, a company owned by the government of Shanghai. When the deal is completed, Shenergy will become the second-largest shareholder of Guanghui, basically giving the Chinese government direct control over Sun’s company.
The GH America Investment Group is said to have acquired the land in Texas to set up 50 to 130 wind turbines. If any foreign investments threaten national security, the federal government can block such investments through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). In 2018, the Trump administration granted CFIUS extra powers when it came to scrutinizing foreign investments involving China. A CFIUS panel headed by the Treasury Department reviewed the land acquisition and judged that the proposed wind farm did not threaten national security in any way. However, several lawmakers and security experts are not convinced.
For one thing, the project aims at generating and supplying electricity to American citizens, thus becoming a part of critical infrastructure. A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Energy has found that cyberattacks on America’s electric utilities have been on the rise. Considering how sour the U.S.-China relationship is now, allowing a Chinese firm to operate a utility company presents obvious problems. There is a strong risk of China hacking and disrupting the U.S. power grid.
Republican Will Hurd from Texas has been issuing warnings against the wind farm project. “The federal government is not moving fast enough to prevent it, and the state government lacks the power to stop it… Allowing an adversary to connect to our power grid enables the attacker to perform a false data injection attack — where the attacker spoofs the system’s monitoring tools to falsely think activity is happening on the grid,” he said in an op-ed.
Another major issue is the project’s proximity to the Laughlin Air Force Base. This is a premier training facility for the U.S. Air Force from which hundreds of pilots graduate every year. Kyle Bass, the founder and chief investment officer of Dallas-based Hayman Capital Management, points that it is “insane” to allow a former PLA member to buy land in the U.S. He warned that the land sits close to America’s border with Mexico and has a private runway that would enable the Chinese to ferry people in and out of the United States with little to no oversight from authorities.
In July, Hurd and Republican Senator Ted Cruz wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, warning about the dangers posed by the project. “This (U.S. military) installation houses the training grounds for our world-class Air Force pilots, many of whom are future F-35 and B-21 pilots. There is concern that a project with ties to the Chinese Communist Party in such close proximity to the area where these pilots are training could threaten our competitive edge and our national security,” the joint letter stated.
By Prakash Gogoi