Are we celebrating too soon?
A very large headline in this morning’s Wheeling Intelligencer proclaims:
China Making Moves In the Mountain State
The sub-headline tells us:
Deal hailed as major step forward for W.Va.
And the first paragraph gives us the details:
The $83.7 billion a Chinese firm plans to spend developing West Virginia’s shale natural gas resources exceeds the total value of all goods and services produced in the state each year.
While this sounds great, a look at other sources suggests that the deal should certainly not be considered “done.” CNN Money, for example, discusses it as among the deals that President Trump made with the Chinese:
One is an $84 billion plan from state-owned China Energy Investment Corp. to invest in shale gas and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia. That comes with a couple of caveats, though. It's spread out over 20 years and the deal is only a memorandum of understanding rather than a finalized contract.
Bloomberg notes that it is “non-binding” and “(t)he memorandum of understanding marks the first step in a series of commitments the company expects to make in West Virginia.”
Ken Ward Jr. in the Charleston Gazette notes the lack of details in the memorandum:
(C)oncrete details about exactly what the 20-year, $83.7 billion in Chinese investment in West Virginia’s natural gas industry would bring to the state remained, at best, a bit sketchy Thursday.
Political leaders rushed to praise the announcement and their own roles in making it happen. They were less quick to really explain to West Virginians how what the governor described as “the largest investment in our state’s history” might actually materialize.
Ward notes questions that will need to be answered:
What kinds of natural gas processing plants, pipelines or cracker plants will China Energy Investment Corp. Ltd. build? Where? How many jobs will be provided and how many of them will go to West Virginians? Is the state’s environmental regulatory system up to the task of protecting residents? What about the long-term climate effects of the drive to burn more fossil fuels? Will this kind of investment in natural gas spell an even faster decline for West Virginia’s already struggling coal industry?
Ward’s piece also covers others who are raising similar questions.
Why did the Chinese choose West Virginia? A News-Register editorial gives credit where only some credit is due
Today’s lead editorial in the afternoon paper answers that question:
No doubt politics and diplomacy played parts in the decision. But $83.7 billion isn’t spent without having a solid business foundation.
Chinese business leaders are not unfamiliar with the Mountain State, in large measure because of WVU.
WVU is why it happened? I was a bit surprised. Here are the editorial’s reasons:
WVU has previously partnered with China Energy Investment Corp. I checked out this claim and it appears to be true. Score one for WVU.
The “personal familiarity with WVU by a substantial number of Chinese students.” The editorial goes on to claim that WVU “is among the most popular American institutions of higher learning among Chinese students.” This is easily verifiable. Last year Foreign Policy did an analysis of which universities Chinese students were attending. They listed the top 25 universities with Chinese students and WVU is not among them. The article also has a map that “shows the locations of the 150 colleges and universities connected to the most F-1 visas for Chinese nationals.” WVU is not listed nor is any other WV college or university. This makes logical sense: the editorial brags that 252 Chinese students studied at WVU in 2016 which sounds like a lot until you realize that there were 304,000 Chinese student in the U.S. in 2015. WVU is clearly not among “the most popular American institutions” for Chinese students.
Finally, the editorial claims that the Chinese recognized that WVU is an “economic development leader” and for proof the editorial cites the “West Virginia Forward” plan that WVU’s president, E. Gordon Gee, and our local "newspapers have been plugging for the last two months. I will confess to not having read the WVU plan (I’ve only seen summaries) but I can’t help thinking that it is not that different from any number of studies done by state universities and think tanks throughout the U.S. If “Forward” is what convinced the Chinese, I’d suggest that they need to get out more.
I doubt that we are done reading about who deserves credit for what has happened. Just a hunch but I think that sometime soon an editorial, Myer column, or op-ed piece will parcel additional credit to others. (For example, how about that positive business climate that Republicans have supposedly brought to the state?)