​Security-conscious US diplomats shun Waldorf after Chinese acquisition

The Waldorf Astoria at 301 Park Avenue in New York (Reuters / Brendan McDermid)
After New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel was purchased by a Chinese company, the eavesdropping-wary US State Department reportedly decided to abandon it as a base of operations during UN General Assembly sessions.

The decision would affect hundreds of American diplomats and staff members, who would be staying at the New York Palace nearby, AP reported. Waldorf has for decades been a base of operations for the State Department during UN General Assembly sessions each September.

The diplomatic sources who told AP of the change gave no reason for the move, except to mention last year's sale of the Waldorf-Astoria by Hilton Worldwide to the Chinese Anbang Insurance Group. The $1.95 billion deal gave Hilton, which would continue to run the hotel for the next 100 years, the resources needed for a major renovation.

At the time the deal was sealed in October, US officials said it would have implications for the US government's relationship with the hotel. The decisions would be taken based on cost, security concerns and the new owner's plans, it was said.

Asked whether the Chinese ownership contributed to the breakup with the State Department, the hotel responded: “It is always a privilege to host representatives of the US Department of State and we hope to have to occasion to welcome them back to the Waldorf Astoria New York when the opportunity presents itself.”

READ MORE: US investigating Chinese purchase of Waldorf Astoria hotel

It was not immediately clear whether the decision would also affect the American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers, who uses the Waldorf as her home. The US government has been leasing an apartment for the ambassador on the 42nd floor of the hotel's Waldorf Towers for more than 50 years. The current lease expires this year with an option to renew for one or two years.

The change may also affect travel arrangements for President Barack Obama and his successors. American presidents since Herbert Hoover have stayed at the Waldorf.

The US suspects China of spying on foreign diplomats and businessmen traveling to the Asian country. The State Department has warned of the possible physical and electronic surveillance visitors may be subjected to in China.

“Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, internet usage and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge,” the US State Department’s travel advisory for 2014 reads. “Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions and other business-sensitive information may be taken and shared with local interests."