WASHINGTON—A wind farm in Texas near the Air Force’s largest pilot training base came under the spotlight in recent weeks because the owner is a Chinese businessman described as a “carpetbagger” with strong ties to the communist regime in China.
Over 130,000 acres of Texas ranch land—an area the size of Tulsa, Oklahoma—was sold beginning in 2015 to China-based Guanghui Energy Co.
Sun Guangxin, the founder of Guanghui, is a former Chinese military officer and the richest person in the western Xinjiang region, with a $1.9 billion net worth, according to Forbes. A South China Morning Post article in 2004 described Sun as a “controversial figure” and a “carpetbagger.”
In 1989, when Sun left the army, “he had no money but was bursting with ambition,” the article said, likening him to Russian oligarchs.
He generated a vast fortune by acquiring state assets at bargain prices. He took over more than half the property market in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, according to the article.
Xinjiang is home to internment camps where the U.S. State Department says more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are held without charge.
Guanghui acquired the land in Val Verde County, Texas, with a proposal to build 50 to 130 wind turbines. The land is near Laughlin Air Force Base, the Air Force’s largest pilot training facility, and a few dozen miles away from the U.S.–Mexico border.
About 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned. Private ownership combined with loose regulations in Texas makes property purchases easier for foreign buyers.
In Texas, there’s also “a high bar for authorities to step in and stop development on wind farms,” according to an article by Foreign Policy.
“Ever since the Texas legislature put in place a 1999 mandate calling on the state’s utilities to get more power from renewable sources, it’s been hard to stop these ventures from going forward,” it states.
The federal government, however, has the power to block such investments for national security reasons through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which monitors foreign investments. A 2018 law granted more power to the CFIUS in scrutinizing Chinese investments.
A CFIUS panel chaired by the Treasury Department reviewed Guanghui Energy’s transaction and found that the wind farm didn’t pose a national security threat.
Kyle Bass, the founder and chief investment officer of Dallas-based Hayman Capital Management, told Fox Business on Dec. 8, “It’s insane that we allow the former Chinese PLA general to go buy 200 square miles of land in the United States.”
Bass posted a series of tweets last week raising concerns about the Chinese ownership of the land, after his visit to the area.
“This ranch land also sits on the US border with Mexico and boasts a 30,000 sq. ft. lodge and a private runway which helps the Chinese owners ferry people and cargo in and out of the border region with limited to no oversight by US authorities,” he wrote on Twitter.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) responded to Bass’s tweets, stating that the review by the CFIUS and the Department of Defense was ongoing.
“The initial ‘approval’ was only a partial and conditional approval,” Bass told The Epoch Times, believing that the CFIUS could still overturn its decision.
Alternatively, the president can also block the transaction, he said, under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which provides him broad authority to regulate a variety of economic transactions after declaring a national emergency.
“It’s a work in progress, but I am hearing a unanimous response within the U.S. government that this needs to be killed,” Bass said.
In July, Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin raising concerns about the wind farm project.
“As Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), you have primary jurisdiction for reviewing this matter given CFIUS jurisdiction over proposed investment transactions close to military installations,” the letter said, adding that Laughlin AFB is one of those installations.
“This 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.”
Lawmakers requested a classified briefing to address these national security concerns.
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the lands were bought in 2018.