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After submitting a sheet proposal in to join a Hangzhou incubator, Ai Binke sat nervously before a committee of tech industry executives who questioned his future prospects. His software company, Yun Ran Internet of Things, had only four employees, and its trade deals had been little. But his start-up, Mr. Ai explained to the committee, had grand potential.
That was sufficient for the judges to award him , renminbi in subsidies. The bulk, roughly 70 percent, was instantly transferred into his corporate bank account. “As endless as you run projects that are encouraged by the Hangzhou government, you can get the subsidies,” said Mr.
Ai, “It’s not extremely difficult.”
Local governments around China are spending heavily on start-ups. In Shenzhen, authorities are offering to subsidize up to 70 percent of rent for “creative” start-ups. Local officials in the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu are setting up a million renminbi “entrepreneurship and innovation development fund” and promising subsidies of up to 5 million renminbi.
San Francisco’s Treasure Island, the previous naval base being transformed into a $6 billion development of condos and shops, was once considered hazardous enough to be a federal Superfund waste site but was never officially named one, newly disclosed documents show.
While it’s not clear why Treasure Island was never named a Superfund site, a designation given to some of the most polluted places in the country, the release of the records prompted calls Wednesday from some environmentalists for more federal examination.
However, the island’s developers, who own plans to put more than 8, homes on the site by , said the cleanup has been heavily scrutinized and handled effectively by multiple government agencies, dismissing any suggestion that the area is not safe for habitation.
Environmental Protection Agency gives special attention to contaminated sites on the National Priorities List, commonly known as Superfund sites. Cleanups require extensive tests of soil and water and public documentation of those efforts. The owners of the sites generally pay for the bulk of the cleanup while the EPA looks over their shoulder.
The process of listing a Superfund site begins with the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, which measures the threat to human health and the environment on a point scale. A score above qualifies that put for a Superfund designation, which would make cleanup a federal priority.
In , the EPA calculated a hazard score for Naval Station Treasure Island, the base that included every of Treasure Island — the flat, artificial island stretching for acres at the midspan of the Bay Bridge — and portions of neighboring Yerba Buena Island.
The base’s score was , the new documents show, almost double the threshold for Superfund consideration and slightly higher than the score for the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in the southeast corner of San Francisco, which was named a Superfund site in
But Superfund listing is not mandatory if the score exceeds , and Treasure Island was never stamped with the classification.
Instead of leading the cleanup, the EPA took a back seat, allowing the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to monitor the project.
Environmental advocacy groups said the decision led to a dysfunctional and delayed cleanup, making the process less transparent and leaving thousands of Treasure Island residents in the dark for years about contamination near their homes. In , when Navy contractors started to discover radioactive objects across the island that weren’t supposed to be there, the EPA officially remained on the sidelines without ever fully explaining why.
Federal documents about the EPA and Treasure Island were released to The Chronicle and a nonprofit environmental watchdog group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), under separate Liberty of Information Act requests.
The Chronicle obtained related EPA emails and documents through a diverse request.
“Treasure Island is what we call a ‘Shadow Superfund site’ — a toxic stain that has remained in the shadows,” PEER’s Pacific director, Jeff Ruch, said in a statement Wednesday.
Bradley Angel, executive director of the San Francisco nonprofit group Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, called on the EPA to reevaluate the risk of the site and investigate the work that has been done so far. “Nobody’s minding the store,” Angel said. “It is just another example of public agencies looking the other way.”
The site’s private developer, Treasure Island Community Development, said in a statement Wednesday that it was “flat wrong” to propose that the cleanup has been flawed, calling those claims “bogus.”
“Over the past three decades, hundreds of millions of dollars own been spent to identify and remove contaminants per State of California standards in order to ensure the island is safe for development,” the statement said.
“The work has been closely supervised by multiple public agencies and reviewed by independent entities.” Treasure Island Community Development said it was delivering “desperately needed housing within the City of San Francisco.”
The records obtained by The Chronicle and PEER do not make clear why Treasure Island never made the Superfund list. But in a document, the EPA listed opposition from the state as a “moderate factor” for the island not being added to the list. A federal review of the Superfund program later found that some state governors cited “the perceived stigma of (National Priorities List) listing and potential adverse economic effect” as reasons for not supporting listings of eligible sites.
Pete Wilson did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The EPA did not answer specific questions about why Treasure Island never made the list, and the Navy did not reply to a request for comment.
An official with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control said a hazard score is just the start of the listing process.
“Recognizing that the EPA implements the Superfund program, the final number in the hazard ranking score system doesn’t mean that one site is more hazardous than another,” said Grant Manage, the department’s deputy director for site mitigation and restoration.
“That requires a more in-depth investigation.”
Robert Beck, director of the city’s Treasure Island Development Authority, defended the island’s cleanup and oversight, which he called extensive.
“The Treasure Island Development Authority remains confident in the measures taken by the Navy to identify and appropriately remediate environmental concerns on Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island and the oversight of those measures provided by the State of California,” Beck said in a statement.
A state official said in a email obtained by The Chronicle that although Treasure Island isn’t on the Superfund list, “It is still treated love a Superfund site in that it is going through the same stringent cleanup requirements.”
The genuine estate project could bring thousands of new homes and residents to the area.
More than half of the island, now home to about 1, people, has been declared free of radioactive hazards and transferred from the Navy to the city. Much of the relax is still being investigated for radioactivity and toxic substances.
The Army Corps of Engineers built Treasure Island in to host the Golden Gate International Exposition, a celebration of San Francisco’s iconic bridges. Then, during World War II and throughout the Freezing War, the Navy transformed the island into a bustling base, where thousands of sailors and civilians lived, worked, trained and repaired ships.
Those activities polluted the land with unknown quantities of metals, industrial chemicals and radioactive substances, some used in training exercises to prepare for possible nuclear bomb attacks.
In September , an EPA employee filled out an sheet worksheet to determine Treasure Island’s hazard score of Noting that the “types of wastes and contaminants deposited on site are mostly unknown,” the staffer assumed that mercury and PCBs, industrial chemicals banned in , tainted some soil.
The EPA reviewer called this a “worst case situation,” but didn’t account for the possibility of radioactive waste.
As Navy contractors began investigating the island, according to Navy reports, they found “a wide distribution of chemicals in soil and groundwater” at potentially harmful levels, including PCBs, dioxin, lead and volatile organic compounds. The Navy started to identify and remove tainted soil and sediment.
Later, after the Navy closed the base and the city began reusing some buildings for housing, Navy contractors made a series of troubling discoveries, finding and removing more than individual radioactive objects, some in housing areas.
Still, the EPA kept Treasure Island off the Superfund list.
In a one-page document, an EPA staffer wrote that the cleanup was “making excellent progress under state oversight” and that future evaluations of Treasure Island’s status were a “lower” priority. There are no records of EPA evaluations in the past 11 years.
An EPA spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday that the agency “regularly checks in with its state and other federal agency partners on the status of cleanup work at this site.”
In May , Saul Bloom, the leader of San Francisco environmental nonprofit group Arc Ecology, wrote in an email to EPA leaders that the agency should re-score the site and potentially add it to the Superfund list.
He argued that the EPA was the only institution powerful and neutral enough to discover credible answers about contamination.
“The simple fact is we own learned more about TI (Treasure Island) in the past three years than we own in every the preceding ones since the (cleanup) began and the tale is troubling,” Bloom wrote. “Right now residents of TI do not know where in government they can go for an unbiased point of view on their health and exposure.”
Bloom, who died in , also submitted a Liberty of Information Act request for documents about the site, asking the EPA for details about its decision to leave Treasure Island off the Superfund list.
His questions initially stumped some EPA officials.
“No one is certain if it was ever scored and ranked,” a regional project manager emailed to a colleague in After doing some research, he added in another email, “The site exceeded the score for listing. I don’t know the history as to why it was never listed.”
Some Pacific Island Nations Are Turning To China.
Climate Change Is A Factor
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Solomon Islands’ Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele after the signing of a joint communique in Beijing establishing diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images hide caption
toggle caption Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Solomon Islands’ Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele after the signing of a joint communique in Beijing establishing diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands.
Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
Updated at a.m. Monday
This month, the Trump istration formally began the yearlong process of pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement.
It will be the first and only country to quit the nation deal to combat climate change. That’s a large concern for some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, including the little island nations of the Pacific.
While the istration still promises to work exterior the agreement with nations on environmental problems, Pacific island nations that consider themselves on the front lines of climate change had hoped the U.S. would stay committed to the global deal to cut emissions and assist populations confront the rising seas around them.
Now some leaders of those nations are turning for assist to China, and climate change has been a factor.
Beijing has vowed to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement.
The diplomatic reconfiguration in the region has opened up a new front in the battle for influence between China and the U.S. and its allies.
«The show of lack of leadership by the current U.S.
government in the fight against climate change is extremely discouraging not only to us but to every the low-lying island nations of the Pacific,» officials from the Solomon Islands tell NPR via email. «Although China is one of the biggest CO2 emitters, it is showing leadership and commitment to assist lead our global efforts against [climate change].»
An archipelago of some islands northeast of Australia, the Solomon Islands decided in September to downgrade its ties with Taiwan and renormalize diplomatic relations with Beijing. Taiwan then ended its relationship with the Solomons.
Economic reasons were a key driver of the Solomons’ decision, but climate change was «also a factor in the decision to switch,» Robson Tana Djokovic, the Solomon Islands prime minister’s chief of staff, and Samson Viulu, a senior economic official, tell NPR.
«For most of us, [climate change] is about our present and future.»
They’ve watched their islands vanish under rising seas and their drinking water inundated by saltwater. The two officials said the Solomon Islands «felt that we are not an significant part of the global family maybe because we do not own large economies and so are not treated as significant when it comes to [climate change].»
So they’ve turned to China, in hopes a relationship with Beijing will boost economic development as well as give their nation more resources to manage and mitigate the impact of global warming.
«Very clear» reasons
Less than a week after the Solomon Islands’ diplomatic shakeup, Kiribati — a smattering of low-lying atolls in the central Pacific with a population of just more than , — announced it would also cut ties with Taiwan and establish relations with Beijing.
You can’t avoid the footprint of China on the Pacific now — it’s just everywhere.
Jonathan Pryke, Lowy Institute
«The reason was extremely clear,» Kiribati President Taneti Mamau told reporters in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. China, «as a large power with much more resources» than Taiwan, he said, would be a better partner in tackling both domestic and global issues, including climate change. Kiribati previously had diplomatic ties to China.
China is «serious» about climate change, he emphasized, citing Beijing’s promise not only to cut its own carbon emissions, but also to assist Pacific island nations mitigate and manage the impacts of climate change and fully implement the Paris Agreement.
China’s involvement in the Pacific has grown in the past two decades but really began to accelerate after Xi Jinping came to power in , according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan panel that advises Congress on the security implications of trade and economic relationships between Beijing and Washington.
In a report issued this year, the commission said China wants to establish a military presence in the region, benefit from the region’s voting power at the United Nations, acquire access to natural resources such as timber, gold, nickel and fish, and undermine regional diplomatic support for Taiwan, which Beijing sees as its own.
The region is an significant part of China’s massive infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative.
According to a report final year by the U.S.-China commission, China has increased its aid to Pacific tourism and boosted the number of high-level visits by Chinese diplomats. The report also found that China has upped humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the region.
While Xi has stated that China does not seek a «sphere of influence,» Taiwan has accused Beijing of trying to «suppress and reduce Taiwan’s international presence» and take away its sovereignty.
The recent decision by Kiribati and the Solomon Islands to normalize relations with Beijing leaves Taiwan with 15 bilateral relationships around the world — less than a third of them little Pacific island nations, including Nauru and Tuvalu.
A fluid relationship
Taiwan is the United States’ 11th largest goods trading partner, and the U.S. continues to sell it advanced weapons, even though Washington maintains no official ties with Taiwan.
In Washington, the Pacific islands’ recent snubbing of Taiwan set off alarm bells and drew the ire of politicians including Vice President Pence and Florida Republican Sen.
Marco Rubio, who tweeted a threat to «cut off ties» to the Solomon Islands.
But America’s interest in the South Pacific historically has waxed and waned, depending on geo-strategic concerns, says Scott Kroeker, interim senior manager of the Pacific Islands Development Program at the East-West Middle in Honolulu.
«Whenever another rival power starts to rear their head in the region, the U.S. says, ‘Oh, we better pay attention,’ » Kroeker says.
Since World War II, the U.S. has kept relatively excellent relations with the North Pacific island nations, Kroeker says. The Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau each own bilateral agreements with the U.S.
known as compacts of free association. They get hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid and depend on Washington for defense.
Both Washington and Taipei are closely watching for the results of this week’s Marshall Islands general election. The current Marshallese government is an ally of Taiwan, while the opposition is eager to work with China. The victor will head up negotiations to resume the compact with the U.S., set to expire in
In the South Pacific, the U.S. shares influence with Australia and New Zealand, with the latter two countries giving more aid money and military resources to the region than Washington.
But China has «significantly bolstered» its economic, diplomatic and security engagement in the Pacific islands over the past five years, according to a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report.
«Beijing’s growing engagement in the Pacific islands poses a number of implications for U.S. interests in the region,» the commission report says. «Some analysts are concerned China is trying to erode U.S. influence in the region to weaken the U.S. military presence and create an opening for Chinese military access.»
A «dramatically changing» landscape
Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute ponder tank in Sydney believes such concerns are overblown.
There’s «a really low probability» of China setting up a military base in the Pacific islands, he argues, despite U.S. and Australian fears. Not only own Washington and Canberra become more alert to Beijing’s moves in the region, but the Pacific island nations themselves «don’t desire to be further militarized,» he explains.
«They didn’t own a excellent run of it in World War II, they vividly remember that,» Pryke says. «Also they are fiercely protective of their sovereignty.»
Both Australia and New Zealand own re-upped engagement in the Pacific region, along with the U.S.
In recent months, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Micronesia and met with President David W. Panuelo, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine and Palau’s Vice President Raynold B. Oilouch. The U.S. has promised not just one,but two infusions of new aid to the region, totaling $ million, geared toward climate change resilience and sustainable development, among other issues. This week, the U.S. and its allies pledged to develop a deep-sea port in the Solomon Islands.
Australia and New Zealand remain the dominant financiers of Pacific aid, delivering some 54% of the more than $2 billion (USD) in assistance given to Pacific island nations between and , Pryke says.
Japan, China and the U.S. circular out the list of top five donors, with the U.S. giving a little more than 7% over the same time period.
Starting in , China’s engagement in the Pacific region «really started ramping up, reflecting similar trends elsewhere in the world,» Pryke says. Between and ,Beijing gave about 8% of every foreign aid to the Pacific region with more than 80% of it through concessional loans.
These loans, with their long-term payment plans, own led some experts to accuse China of «debt-trap diplomacy.»
China is winning government contracts and dominating the infrastructure space in the region, Pryke says, and the way Chinese state-owned enterprises interact with island nations should be more of a concern than the possibility of China setting up a military base.
Chinese state-owned enterpriseswere pushing hardest for the Solomon Islands to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, says Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, a political scientist from the Solomon Islands at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
«These companies that own operations around the world and, to a large extent, it’s in their interest to see that there is diplomatic relations,» he says.
«And so their bottom line is about making profit, just love companies anywhere in the world.»
Meanwhile, there has also been an influx of Chinese immigrants to build these projects because Chinese firms prefer to use Chinese labor — causing tensions over jobs and trade practices across the Pacific region.
«So the landscape is dramatically changing,» Pryke says. «And it’s only in the final few years that we’ve seen the tipping point, where the relax of the world started paying attention, because you can’t avoid the footprint of China on the Pacific now — it’s just everywhere.»