In 2017, Beijing offered to spend $100m to build an ornate Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. “On paper,” says CNN, “it looked like a fantastic deal.” Modelled on the elaborate gardens built along the Yangtze River during the Qing dynasty, the “National China Garden” promised “temples, pavilions and a 70ft white pagoda”, designed to attract thousands of tourists every year.
But when American spooks dug a little deeper, they found many “red flags”. The pagoda, they noted, would be strategically placed on “one of the highest points in Washington DC”, just two miles from the US Capitol – a “perfect spot” for high-tech eavesdropping devices. Perhaps more alarming was the fact that Chinese officials wanted to build the pagoda with materials “shipped to the US in diplomatic pouches”, which customs officials are forbidden from opening.
Federal officials “quietly killed” the project before construction got under way. Since then, the FBI and other agencies have investigated Chinese-made communications tech being installed near top-secret nuclear missile silos, and shut down a high-profile consulate in Houston believed to be a “hotbed of Chinese spies”.