Obama cancels stay at Waldorf

Updated: 2015-07-29 14:18

By AMY HE(China Daily)

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US president switches from Chinese-owned hotel for upcoming UN General Assembly

United States' President Barack Obama has canceled the White House's decades-old reservation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which was recently purchased by a Chinese insurance company, according to CBS News.

Citing unnamed State Department officials, CBS News said that the White House is expected within days to announce the cancellation, and that Obama and State Department officials and staff will switch from the Waldorf to the New York Palace Hotel when they attend the UN General Assembly meeting in September.

A South Korean consortium announced last month that it was buying the Palace. CBS News said Palace officials had confirmed that the White House has booked several floors for the UN meeting.

The White House did not respond to China Daily's request for comment, while a State Department official on Monday would not comment on the issue.

The Waldorf was acquired by Anbang Insurance Group for $1.95 billion last year, and the switch in hotels has been speculated in news reports for weeks, citing concerns about possible Chinese eavesdropping and cyber espionage.

"The Obama administration won't likely say the hotel swap was decided on as payback for Chinese hacking of US secrets, nor over fears of Chinese eavesdropping inside the building. But such fears have been voiced by other US officials," CBS said.

Though the US has not explicitly blamed the Chinese government, it suspects China-linked hackers were behind a recent massive breach of federal personnel records that compromised the data of millions of government workers. China has denied the US claims.

Ted Carpenter, a senior fellow of defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, said the US decision on a hotel switch certainly could increase the perception that the United States is hostile toward Chinese investment in America.

"But in this case, I suspect that the motive is more specific. The president and his national security team would worry that staying at a Chinese-owned hotel could increase the potential for sophisticated espionage directed against the presidential party," he said.

"That fear is probably excessive, but US officials are obsessed with maintaining maximum security of information when the president is directly involved," he said.

Carpenter said only if this move is followed by other actions that suggest a broader hostility toward Chinese-owned businesses operating in the United States would the confidence of Chinese investors be shaken in a serious fashion.

Asked if Chinese President Xi Jinping will stay at the Waldorf when he attends the General Assembly meeting, which will coincide with his official State visit to the US, China's UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi told CBS News, "He most certainly will."

On June 17, the Associated Press cited unnamed US State Department officials as saying hundreds of American diplomats and staff would use the Palace instead of the Waldorf for the General Assembly meeting.

AP said the officials didn't give a reason for the switch, but pointed to the sale of the Waldorf to the Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group in October 2014 by Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. US officials said then that it might affect the government's longstanding relationship with the hotel, and that a decision would be made on cost and potential security concerns connected to Anbang's plans to renovate the hotel.

The 1,232-room Waldorf was originally built in 1893 by William Waldorf Astor, the only child of financier John Jacob Astor III. The hotel was relocated from its original site on 33rd Street to Park Avenue on 49th Street in 1931. It is 10 blocks from UN headquarters.

The Palace, known for a time as the Helmsley Palace, is eight blocks away from the UN at 50th and Madison Avenue, near St Patrick's Cathedral and Rockefeller Center.