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Learning When Money Will Come

Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch and other state officials may get the answer to a question some West Virginians are asking: What about the $83.7 billion?

Gaunch and a small delegation left Charleston today on their way to Beijing, at the invitation of China Energy executives. The visit comes as tension with China continues to increase because of trade disputes involving our two nations.

Chinese officials have retaliated in various ways against President Trump’s decision to increase tariffs on some Chinese goods imported into this country.

In 2017, China Energy agreed to a memorandum of understanding outlining a plan to invest $83.7 billion in our state. Much of the money is to go into energy-related projects such as natural gas power plants.

Little has been revealed about how the investment plan will proceed, however. That has led to some worry about whether Beijing would use the $83.7 billion pledge as a pawn in the trade dispute.

There are reasons to be optimistic that will not be the case. One of them is that the West Virginia deal is part of a much larger, $250 billion Chinese plan for various investments in the U.S. economy. There are other parts of that deal that should be more attractive to Beijing as bargaining chips, particularly given the value of the Mountain State plan.

Gaunch and other state officials have virtually no power to grant incentives that might spur the Chinese to pump money into our state. They do have a good argument, however: Getting in to the Mountain State energy boom — and related industries such as plastics manufacturing — should be an excellent, profitable investment for China Energy.

Besides, Chinese officials often take the long view, and the $83.7 billion plan calls for that much to be spent during a 20-year period. Its value for both West Virginia and China will outlast the current unpleasantness by many years.

Gaunch and the others can do little more than listen, answer questions and, perhaps, offer some state government assistance to the Chinese. At some point, however, they ought to ask — diplomatically — for a timeline on when we can expect the money to start flowing.

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