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Obama to shun Chinese-owned Waldorf hotel

[WASHINGTON] President Barack Obama will forego his normal digs at New York's Waldorf Astoria during the UN General Assembly this month, after the hotel was bought by a Chinese insurance firm.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama and the US delegation would stay at the nearby New York Palace Hotel.

"There are a range of considerations that influence where the president will stay when he's not at the White House," Mr Earnest said.

"Those considerations include everything from available space, to cost and to security." The announcement comes just weeks before Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to Washington for a visit beset by tensions over cyber security, maritime claims and China's growing assertiveness.

Earnest would not say whether the Chinese acquisition of the Astoria had raised concerns about possible espionage.

Anbang Insurance Group bought the landmark luxury hotel late last year for US$1.95 billion.

For years it has been used as a base for US operations when leaders from around the world descend on Manhattan for the UN General Assembly meeting.

The State Department has long held a suite at the Waldorf for the US ambassador to the United Nations, currently Samantha Power.

State Department spokesman John Kirby refused to be drawn on whether officials are concerned about privacy issues at a Chinese-owned hotel, but confirmed the US delegation to the General Assembly would stay elsewhere.

"Security is always a concern, as you know, but I don't have anything to announce about Ambassador Power's residence, for the time being she's at the Waldorf," he said.

"We constantly review accommodations, especially for our diplomats, and that will continue in this case. We're not going to discuss the factors that go into contractual engagements that we make." The Waldorf Astoria occupies a full city block in midtown Manhattan, and has been in business for more than a century.

In 1993, the hotel was declared an official New York City landmark, joining the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge.

AFP