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Joe Manchin questions China's promised $84 billion investment in West Virginia: 'Something doesn't make sense here'

Key Points
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is raising alarm bells about an $83.7 billion investment in his home state pledged by China's state-owned energy giant.
  • "When you put that in comparison to the state budget of West Virginia, our state budget only goes over $4 billion a year, so something doesn't make sense here, and we cannot find out what their intent is," he says.
  • The deal was announced in 2017 as part of $250 billion in business agreements reached between the U.S. and China in connection with President Donald Trump's visit to the country.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaking at a press conference sponsored by the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Common Sense Coalition to announce "principles for legislation to lower prescription drug prices" at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is raising alarm bells about an $83.7 billion investment in his home state pledged by China's state-owned energy giant.

"In West Virginia, they came and signed a [Memorandum of Understanding] for $83 billion, and I repeat, $83 billion over 20 years," Manchin said Thursday during a Senate hearing on innovation in the energy sector.

"When you put that in comparison to the state budget of West Virginia, our state budget only goes over $4 billion a year, so something doesn't make sense here, and we cannot find out what their intent is," he said.

Read more: West Virginia is still waiting on an $84 billion investment from China that was promised in 2017

The concerns echo those raised by lawmakers — including Manchin — in interviews with CNBC about the proposed size of the investment relative to the state's small output, as well as the opaque nature of the deal.

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West Virginia is still waiting on a game-changing $84 billion investment from China

The deal was announced in 2017 as part of $250 billion in business agreements reached between the U.S. and China in connection with President Donald Trump's visit to the country. Gov. Jim Justice said there would be "shovels in the ground" the following year.

But so far, no such action has materialized. CNBC reported last month that despite the big promises, China Energy Investment Corp. had not yet spent any money in the state.

Manchin said on Thursday that he supported the investment "if it's for capital expenditure."

"If it's for removing resources such as the ethane, propane, butane, and taking a commitment of taking all of our wet gas, which we use as a building block to reinvigorate our petrochemical base, then I would hope for the officials in my state of West Virginia that that is a nonstarter," he said.

Potential aspects of the Chinese investment have already run into trouble with federal regulators. Local executives and state lawmakers expected China Energy to help build new power plants. That plan was blocked by U.S. officials, who cited national security concerns. A detailed list of investments has never been made public.

West Virginia's other senator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, did not immediately provide comment.