In one of its first hearings, the US Congress’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party addressed the growing tracts of farmland acquired by Chinese entities. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), of course, monitors foreign acquisitions of sensitive companies. But what about, say, a mysterious Chinese entity wanting to begin crypto-mining in rural Arkansas? From a business perspective, the undertaking is above board. But something doesn’t look right.
Most of us are not in the habit of paying regular attention to Boone, a northern Arkansas county home to some 37,000 residents. To be sure, Boone — especially the county seat of Harrison — features a not-insignificant number of companies in the plastic-molding business, and the Department of Homeland Security has an office in nearby Fayetteville. The US National Guard has a base nearby, too. But Boone County is not the sort of place that attracts a lot of tourists, let alone overseas investors.
Perhaps that’s why county politicians and the local chamber of commerce were excited when a Chinese company announced it wanted to set up there. In fact, the company wanted to buy land and build a crypto mine. But little was known about the prospective investor, Metahash Global LLC. Internet searches for Metahash produced the site metahash.org, a company based in Switzerland and run by Russians, but Metahash Global LLC seemed to be a Chinese company. The investing team approaching Boone County presented four names, including Director of Business Development Yizheng “Ethan” Wang and Deputy Director of Business Development Gloria Yao.
To date, the only trace of Metahash Global LLC on the internet is the website Metahashglobal.com, which calls itself a “global blockchain infrastructure company” but has no facilities and offers no information about an executive team or employees.
Locals were baffled. Why would a Chinese company that seemed to have a bare-bones staff want to build an expensive crypto mine in Boone County? They were even more baffled when the activity seemed to shift from Metahash Global LLC to Green Digital LLC. This outfit, too, has virtually no digital footprint (despite having digital in its name.) Neither company responded to my requests for information about their business in Boone County.
Green Digital LLC’s footprint mostly consists of its Arkansas incorporation records. The company was registered in September 2022 by an agent named Gung Hu – and Gung Hu is also listed as the company’s incorporator, organizer, and manager. “Metahash Global in August signed a buyer’s contract to purchase the five-acre lot located at the corner of Old Bellefonte Road and Mountain Vista Road in Harrison with a Sept. 30, 2022 closing date. The land deal did not close in September, however; and the buyer’s contract was later amended to reflect the buyer’s new business name, Green Digital LLC, and to extend the closing to Dec. 15, 2022. The land deal ultimately closed on Dec. 15, 2022. Green Digital, LLC has deeded the five-acre industrial property by Claridge Products and Equipment for the price of $600,000,” the Harrison Daily Times reported.
Enterprising local residents, eager to understand who was buying this land, established that Gung Hu is also President and CEO of a property development company called Greenland USA, which is in turn owned by Greenland Group (also known as Greenland Holdings Corp., Ltd). Greenland Group is partly owned by the Shanghai city government. Through Greenland USA, the Greenland Group owns properties in the US Northeast and California.
But what to make of this information? Green Digital LLC’s land purchase didn’t violate any laws. In February, construction of the crypto mine began. Locals, though, remained uneasy.
Local residents and the Harrison Daily News kept looking. Then they noticed something odd. “Phone calls made to the Little Rock, Arkansas and Brooklyn, New York offices of Green Digital, for instance, were answered by representatives claiming they had never heard of Green Digital,” the Harrison Daily News reported. Green Digital LLC then amended its address. Construction, meanwhile, was continuing, and residents realized that the noise from the crypto mine would be far louder than anyone had anticipated. Their Facebook group about Metahash LLC and Green Digital LLC, meanwhile, remains the biggest digital footprint either company has.
Even though I used to work in corporate investigations, I too have been unable to determine the project’s purpose.
The project, in fact, offers valuable lessons not just for Boone County decision-makers, who may have been overcome by the opportunity of new investment without conducting sufficient due diligence, but for other decision-makers too. The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party may want to invite a couple of Boone County residents to hear of their grassroots due-diligence investigation into the mysterious investor. It may, of course, turn out that Metahash LLC and Green Digital LLC are perfectly above board, but today it’s no longer prudent to simply accept an investment without proper examination.
Such transactions matter as much as Chinese purchases of US farmland that some members of Congress rightly worry about, and as much as the transactions CFIUS scrutinizes on national security grounds. The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party and other congressional committees should seek out questioning individuals at the grassroots and listen to them.
Elisabeth Braw is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she focuses on defense against emerging national security challenges. She is also a columnist for Foreign Policy and Politico Europe and the author of ‘The Defender’s Dilemma: Identifying and Deterring Gray-Zone Aggression’ (AEI Press, 2022) and ‘God’s Spies’ (Eerdmans, 2019), about the Stasi.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.