The China syndrome

Macau long since surpassed Las Vegas as the world’s biggest gambling center as measured by total revenue.  But Macau and the rest of China hold important meaning for Nevada in other ways.

The Review-Journal published an extensive story on Nevada’s efforts to attract Chinese investors.  This came on the heels of Republican Congressional District 2 candidate Mark Amodei’s ad warning of the coming Chinese takeover of the U.S. government, but the article focused on how everybody is making nice with China—well, not unions, who don’t welcome the competition from cheaper labor for some reason.  It also noted that the state’s economic development budget jumped from $4.6 million to close to $7 million, and some of that sum will target China (how those unions will feel about one of the few budget increases that Gov. Brian Sandoval supported going toward that may be imagined).

But any such story has more to it, and it’s worth delving into here.

If you want to know what’s up in the West, it’s worth your time to check out High Country News. The most recent cover article is “The Global West:  Move over, read, white and blue.  China’s hunger is fueling the new natural resource boom in the West.” The article features a map showing multinational investment and its impact.  Of the 48 examples, three are in Nevada and one is just across the state line at Mountain Pass.  The others are A-Power Energy, a Chinese company working with American firms to build a facility to manufacture wind turbines (no final location yet); Nevada’s annual sales of $334 million in minerals and ores to China; and the proposed Mount Hope molybdenum mine that a U.S. company and a South Korean company own, with financing from a Chinese bank and a Chinese mining company.

Oh, there’s one other Nevada reference:  a photo of a meeting with a Chinese political leader.  Sitting closest to him is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  Republicans might be upset, as Amodei appears to be, about Chinese influence.  But sitting by Reid is Jon Huntsman, whom Barack Obama appointed U.S. ambassador to China. It’s a job Hunstman recently gave up to come home and seek the Republican nomination for president.

That leads to some other points to ponder.  The R-J article quotes important political and business leaders.  If they are that interested in Chinese investment, could that give Huntsman a better shot at Nevada—or at least at money from Nevada—than he might have been expected to have?  In 2008, most expected Mitt Romney to coast through Nevada, and many have had the same expectation in the 2012 GOP caucus.

Huntsman’s entry into the race brought that narrative into question, since he’s a Mormon from Utah, while Romney is a Mormon who is sometimes from Utah.  All of which ignores the Ron Paul factor, which many Republicans similarly ignored in 2008, causing an uproar within GOP councils and at its party convention. Indeed, that Republican wing was angry at its treatment from the chair at the convention, Sue Lowden, and her problems with chickens were far from the only reason she lost the GOP primary in 2010.

Which brings us to Steve Wynn.  He hasn’t exactly been quiet about his disdain for Obama. A few cynics have suggested that because Wynn now does so much business in Macau, he wants to keep the Chinese government happy, and the Chinese leadership doesn’t exactly view Obama as a bosom buddy.  Huntsman was a popular ambassador there. Probably not, but Macau’s gaming taxes are five times higher than the gaming tax rate in Nevada.  If Wynn is willing to pay that without complaining, anything is possible.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.