By Paul Gable
There is a certain irony to the fact that a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of Horry County last week.
The spy balloon was shot down on February 4, 2023, just one day shy of the seventh anniversary of the return of former Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus from a 16-day trip to the People’s Republic of China.
A few days after the return of Lazarus from the China trip, WPDE ran a story headlined “Chinese business leaders Investing more than $100 million in Horry County.” Lazarus told the tv station the venue would be west of the Intracoastal Waterway and would bring several hundred jobs to the area.
The WPDE story went on to say a 25-minute segment from three symposiums, which Lazarus conducted in China, was shown on CCTV (China Central Television). “The presence of Myrtle Beach and Horry County in China right now is huge. We went to a lot of places and that’s all they were talking about,” Lazarus was quoted as saying in the article.
In addition, Lazarus said a “nice article about Myrtle Beach and Horry County and tourism,” was printed in China Daily. Both CCTV and China Daily are propaganda outlets controlled by the Chinese Communist Party Central Propaganda Department.
A WBTW story aired while the trip was in progress. The story said the trip was arranged at the request of the government of the Peoples Republic of China. The on-air story included a photo of a Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce ad, written in Chinese characters, which appeared on the Chamber’s Visit Myrtle Beach website.
The WBTW story said the city had previously “invested tens of thousands of dollars” into the Chinese (tourism) market, presumably from the tourism development fee revenue sent to the Chamber. According to the reporter on the story, he was able to obtain a copy of the agenda for the trip that the Chinese government sent. The story said, “The agenda mentions the Chinese government wants to grow tourism and talk about land in the Myrtle Beach area, as well as grow Chinese culture through the Chamber of Commerce.”
The incident of the Chinese spy balloon transiting from Montana to off the coast of South Carolina has again raised concerns about land purchases, by Chinese companies and individuals. across the country. State and federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to institute prohibitions against land purchases by the Chinese to limit potential spying activities. There are currently three bills in the SC General Assembly, two in the House and one in the Senate, that would restrict or ban aliens, one specifically addressing Chinese, from owning land in South Carolina.
Which brings us to Dan Liu and Founders Group International in Horry and Georgetown Counties. Grand Strand Daily has given extensive coverage through the years to the purchase of 22 golf courses and other properties throughout Horry and Georgetown Counties by Chinese alien and alleged criminal Dan Liu. Go to the search box under the Savage Law Firm ad on the GSD front page and type in “Dan Liu” to view these articles.
In a quick recap, Liu began buying golf courses and land in Horry County in 2014. Liu’s money for the purchases came from a Yiqian Funding a Chinese peer to peer lending business in China. Liu had a big ‘society’ wedding at Pine Lakes International Country Club, one of the courses he owns, in 2015. The event was attended by politicians and other dignitaries from the area and was hailed by some local media as “the first major step into the overseas tourism market.”
In 2016 the clouds began to darken as Yiqian Funding was reportedly raided by Chinese police and called a Ponzi Scheme by the Nanjing District Attorney. Liu’s principal partner in Yiqian Funding, Xiuli Xue and 11 other high ranking associates in Yiqian Funding are all currently serving prison sentences in China for “illegal fundraising.” Liu had permanently moved to Horry County by 2015, thereby escaping the reach of Chinese authorities.
Liu owns 90% of Founders Group and its associated properties, which are tied up in 16 separate LLC’s. Liu and the Founders Group entities are currently being sued in American courts by investors who lost money in Yiqian Funding. According to the Nanjing District Attorney’s office, the equivalent of approximately $1.2 billion had disappeared by the time Liu took off.
It was Liu’s apparent wealth and desire to purchase golf courses and invest in land in Horry County that drew local officials and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce into courting Chinese investors and the Chinese tourism market, apparently never considering potential negative consequences to the county or the country. Steve Mays, who was Chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors in 2020, is the CEO of Founders Group International.
Another Chinese national, Jane Zheng, was working at a local real estate company. She had developed a niche market selling properties to investors from the People’s Republic of China. Zheng brokered all of Liu’s land purchases. Zheng reportedly left the area a few years ago and is said to be living in Europe.
Rep. Russell Fry was on Fox News shortly after the Chinese spy balloon was downed expressing concern about Chinese spying. Fry said, “National security is one of the biggest things a country can do. It is one of the core functions of government. China is one of our biggest adversaries. There is a lot of intrigue about this.”
Fry has been a strong supporter of the Chamber for his entire political career. He is featured in a video on the website of the Grand Strand Business Alliance extolling the virtues of the organization. The GSBA draws revenue from Chamber membership fees and provides support to Chamber political goals including third party funding for ads supporting preferred candidates.
One must ask, where was all this concern about the actions of Chinese nationals a few years ago when they were buying up land and businesses in Horry County?
Why wasn’t Fry concerned about the “tens of thousands of (taxpayer) dollars” the Chamber spent in the Chinese market attempting to lure more Chinese nationals to the area for either tourism or investment and what they would do when they got here?
China has been an adversary of the United States since the Chinese Communists won the civil war in 1949 and established the People’s Republic. The Chinese communists are involved in the ownership and management of Chinese corporations and keep a lot closer rein on their citizens than we do.
How much is truly known about Dan Liu? Is he really a fugitive from justice in China or is he involved in something more nefarious? Were local officials unwittingly sucked into aiding actions benefiting the PRC?
One could imagine the fugitive from justice story as the perfect legend for a deep cover operative. If the background known about Liu is fact, why was a closer look not taken at Liu by authorities when his crimes became known? What is the status of his passport and visa? Is Liu a legal or illegal alien?
Did the Chinese spy balloon pass over Horry County merely by chance or was that part of the intelligence gathering mission?
Too many questions with too few answers.