The United States’ relationship with China has become so strained the president will break decades of precedent during his annual trip to New York this month for the United Nations General Assembly. Due to spying concerns, Obama and other White House staff will not stay at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, but at the New York Palace Hotel.
White House security concerns stemmed from the luxury hotel’s ownership change last year when Hilton Worldwide sold it for $2 billion to Anbang Insurance Group, which has ties to Chinese leadership and the People’s Liberation Army. The Astoria was renovated after the sale, leading the White House to question the hotel’s security and potential vulnerability despite Hilton continuing to manage the property for the next century.
News of the commander in chief changing hotels comes after the strain between the U.S. and China approach critical mass. Obama lambasted China on unacceptable cybersecurity practices, namely of the country near constant hacking of the U.S. computer systems, at a town hall event for U.S. military.
White House and Chinese officials concluded four-days of meetings of cybersecurity among other issues over the weekend ahead of China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington, D.C. in September. According to a White House statement, discussions were “frank and open” between top national security adviser Susan Rice and Meng Jianzhu, legal and political affairs committee secretary for China’s communist Party. FBI Director James Comey also met with Meng and other intelligence community members.
International relations have chilled significantly in the wake of multiple hacks U.S. officials have linked to China — most notably the Office of Personnel Management breach of more than 21 million background check records, the hacking of United Airlines and American Airlines flights, and Anthem health insurer’s breach of 80 million patient medical records.
China has denied any involvement. “The Chinese government firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of hacking activities,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said during a press conference after meeting with intelligence officials Friday. “The issue of cybersecurity [should] become one area of cooperation rather than a source of friction between China and the U.S…some people from the U.S. should stop their unfounded accusations against the Chinese side and carry out dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect and trust.”
Before the UN’s General Assembly and last week’s cyber talks, the Obama administration weighed the possibility of sanctioning China for the numerous attacks on U.S. systems. If carried out, the sanctions would be a public display of intolerance of cyberthreats felt over decades. Obama promised to discuss cyber concerns during Jinping’s visit later this month.