Yesterday's lead editorial in the Wheeling News-Register, "A Win for West Virginia and Chinese," reminded me that it has been a while since I last checked in on last fall's energy "memorandum of understanding" between China and West Virginia. Despite numerous questions raised by credible sources at the time, the "understanding" was hyped by local media and politicians as a West Virginia "game changer." (I wrote about it here and here). Since then, we've heard very few specifics about the "understanding" from state officials as WV Metro News noted earlier this week:
But the investment has also been shrouded in mystery. State officials have been unwilling to release the memorandum of understanding, and they also said they could not elaborate on specifics of the projects, saying they would evolve over the 20-year span of the agreement.
No specifics? That's interesting by itself. But since last November when the understanding was reached, President Trump has launched a trade war with China -- something even yesterday's local editorial acknowledged:
. . . President Donald Trump said the United States would levy new tariffs against imports of products from China. Beijing reacted in kind.
The results? According to the editorial:
And this week, it was revealed China Energy officials have canceled a planned trip to an energy conference in Pittsburgh. It had been hoped an announcement about investments in West Virginia would be made during that visit.
The editorial doesn't seem to think this is too serious --the Chinese are just expressing "displeasure" with Trump's action. Others are a bit more worried. For example, Paul J. Gough, a reporter for Pittsburgh Business Times, tweeted:
The editorial also leaves out that the Chinese skipped more than just an energy conference. As Reuters reported on Wednesday:
A scheduled trip to West Virginia by executives from China Energy Investment Corp to discuss a planned $83.7 billion investment in the state has been canceled, the latest victim of a growing trade war between the United States and China. . . .
Brian Anderson, director of the West Virginia University Energy Institute, told Reuters on Wednesday the executives were due to arrive in West Virginia last weekend to discuss where to invest in shale gas, power and petrochemical projects.
“The original plan was for the CEO of China Energy and a delegation to arrive over this past weekend and be here in West Virginia with our state officials and others,” said Anderson.
“But that visit was canceled because it would be inappropriate in the midst of this trade dispute for China to come,” he said.
And what is the governor doing about all of this? Justice is doing his best Trump imitation -- he recently congratulated himself and then tried to reassure us:
“I can tell you just as simple as mud how it happened,” Justice said. “It happened through a friendship with myself and Donald Trump. Donald Trump realizes wholeheartedly that we have a terrible trade imbalance with China and he is on those people and on those people like stink on you-know what.
We should all feel better -- Trump is on it.
In addition to downplaying events, our local papers are also not reporting important stories connected to this deal. For example, Ken Ward, Jr., who is now doing investigative work for ProPublica as well as the Charleston Gazette-Mail, reported this story last Friday:
West Virginia Paid for a CEO to Go on a Trade Delegation to China. Turns Out, He Was Promoting His Company’s Interests, Too.
It had this sub-heading:
An executive accompanied state officials to China for a ceremony with President Donald Trump to sign a landmark deal last year. He also pushed his company’s interests, which the governor said Friday was not acceptable.
Yes, he had to pay the state back for the cost of his trip. (Quite a punishment!) Given the possible billions of dollars at stake and the state's long history of like-minded capitalists using the state's natural resources to enrich themselves, I'm sure this will not be the last such event.
If the China "understanding" eventually becomes a "deal," shouldn't there be more government transparency? And since I'm making wishes, shouldn't we have newspapers that do more than act like cheerleaders?