US President Barack Obama will break a decades-old tradition at this year’s UN General Assembly when he abandons the prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel for another residence after it was bought by Chinese investors.
American presidents have stayed at the Park Avenue hotel for more than 50 years, traditionally booking up the entire 42nd floor during the annual summit of nations each September, when the world’s heads of state and thousands of officials descend on New York.
But on Friday White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said that the president and the rest of the US delegation will work and stay at the Lotte New York Palace, a South Korean-owned luxury hotel in the same area.
The decision came after Chinese firm Anbang Insurance Group bought the Waldorf Astoria for $1.95 billion – one of the highest prices ever paid for a US hotel – from Hilton Worldwide in October 2014. At the time, US regulators launched an inquiry into the purchase, citing security concerns. In February 2015, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States gave the go-ahead for the sale.
The insurer, which has assets of more than $114 billion, plans to carry out a major renovation on the building. The chairman of the firm is the husband of the granddaughter of former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping.
The decision to move the president comes after a string of major hacking attacks on US databases, many of which officials have traced to China. Questioned about the change, White House officials have remained vague, citing various issues.
“There are a range of considerations that influence where the president will stay when he’s not at the White House,” spokesman Josh Earnest said. “Those considerations include everything from available space, to cost and to security.”
The US State Department is also looking into UN envoy Samantha Power’s residency at the Waldorf Astoria.
“We are evaluating our options,” Mark Toner, spokesman for the State Department told AP on Friday. “The decision about the location of the US ambassador’s residence must necessarily take into account numerous factors, including costs, the needs of the United States government and the US mission to the UN, as well as any possible security concerns.”
The US ambassador to the UN has held a residence at the hotel since 1947.