President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort met Chinese construction billionaire Yan Jiehe last week in Shanghai to discuss how the builder could join in Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan in the U.S., the Pacific Construction Group founder said. The meeting was first reported by the Financial Times.
Last Tuesday was the third time Yan, the founder of Pacific Construction Group, met with Manafort, he separately told Fortune. They had previously met twice in Beijing. Also attending the same meeting were executives from Spain-based ACS Group, one of the world’s largest construction companies.
Manafort’s spokesperson Jason Maloni told the FT that infrastructure deals weren’t discussed. “The Pacific Construction Group was an impromptu meeting added to Mr. Manafort’s schedule at their request because the Chinese are interested in U.S. infrastructure,” the paper quoted Maloni as saying. He added that no current or future infrastructure projects in the U.S. were discussed.
But according to Pacific Construction, Manafort was there to help Yan on potentially brokering deals in the U.S. market, one that could involve a joint venture shepherded by Manafort.
International builders like Pacific Construction and ACS Group are trying to get in on a potential U.S. building boom through trusted connectors like Manafort, who met Yan in Shanghai last week on the same day that reports in the U.S. said Manafort was taking steps to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for his past lobbying work in Ukraine.
Yan founded Pacific Construction in 1995, which soon became the country’s largest private builder by moving faster to complete local government projects than bureaucratic state-owned builders. Pacific took on projects that others shunned, such as a recent plan to level hundreds of loess hills in the country’s far west city of Lanzhou to prepare for a new city center. Yan told Fortune three years ago: “Boeing builds planes. We are in the business of building cities.” Last year, Pacific Construction ranked 99 on Fortune’s Global 500 list, with $73 billion in revenues.
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As China’s own building boom slows, Yan is looking for business opportunities outside China. Two years ago, he pitched construction services in Greece. Now, it appears he is ready to move into the U.S., where President Trump announced a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan when he addressed Congress in February, which was short on details but big on promises.
Yan sees Manafort as someone close to the Trump administration who can help him move into the U.S. to take advantage of the coming construction spending. Last week, he excitedly talked of a great meeting with “Paul,” who was close to President Trump.