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Congress members voice concerns over Chinese company Fufeng's project in North Dakota

South Dakota U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, one of 51 U.S. representatives who signed the Sept. 26 letter, told Agweek in a prepared statement, “China is not our friend, and if a purchase such as the one near the Grand Forks Air Force Base is a strategic move by the Chinese Communist Party to intercept sensitive U.S. military communications, this would cause serious problems."

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A Fufeng USA sign is draped across the front end of a bulldozer at the site of the corn wet milling and bio-fermentation products manufacturer on the north end of Grand Forks, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. A small ceremony was held at the site Tuesday as the project moves forward.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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Fifty-one U.S. House of Representatives members this week wrote a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that voiced their concerns about how the proposed Fufeng wet corn milling project in Grand Forks, North Dakota, could negatively affect U.S. agriculture and the nation’s food security.

The project, which is proposed to be built on 370 acres immediately northwest of Grand Forks, has been controversial since the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation and the Grand Forks City Council announced it 10 months ago. Concerns about the project include environmental, water and national security issues.

The wet corn milling project also has garnered strong support from some individuals, economic development corporation members and Grand Forks city leaders who believe that the plant will result in jobs and boost the region’s agricultural economy. The North Dakota Corn Utilization Council, for example, has publicly voiced support for the project.

Proponents of the project have downplayed the perceived national security threat, noting that Cirrus Aircraft, a Grand Forks business, also has ties to China and there has not been opposition to it. Cirrus Aircraft is owned by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft or Caiga, an airplane manufacturer based in Zhuhai, Guangdong.

Fufeng USA, the Chicago-based company that has proposed the bio-fermentation plant, is owned by Fufeng Group Ltd., which has headquarters in the Chinese province of Shandong.

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One of the major reasons the wet milling corn project proposed for Grand Forks has caught attention on a national level is because of perceived threats to U.S. security.

The House members who wrote the letter, dated Sept. 26, 2022, are the latest to weigh in on whether the project should be built in Grand Forks. The project has been criticized by other U.S. senators and representatives, including Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.

“China is not our friend, and if a purchase such as the one near the Grand Forks Air Force Base is a strategic move by the Chinese Communist Party to intercept sensitive U.S. military communications, this would cause serious problems," Johnson, who signed the Sept. 26 letter, said in a prepared statement.

Johnson is leading bills that would blacklist China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from purchasing U.S. agricultural companies and prohibit foreign nationals associated with the Chinese government from buying any U.S. agricultural land, he said.

In August, Hoeven and Cramer told city leaders in Grand Forks that they shouldn’t continue the project, citing national security concerns. In early September, after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said it would review the project, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said construction on projects specific to Fufeng should stop.

On Sept. 20, bulldozers were moving dirt on the property, and a gathering was held to recognize site preparation. That same day, General Atomics, a California-based unmanned aircraft company with a location near Grand Forks Air Force Base, posted a news release on its website that expressed its opposition to the Fufeng plant.

General Atomics, which has a flight training center near GFAFB said in the press release that it is opposed to the project and called on the U.S. government to halt it.

“Chinese business efforts are inextricably linked with Chinese government efforts,” GA-ASI spokesman C. Mark Brinkley said in the news release.

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“We can’t ignore the opportunity for sophisticated military espionage to co-locate itself within a Chinese business of such scale and scope. Given the proximity to critical national airspace and sensitive military operations on and around Grand Forks Air Force Base, American leaders should be very, very concerned. I know I am. So, we’ve got to act,” Brinkley said.

The 51 congressional representatives who wrote the Sept. 26 letter also express concerns about ties it perceives that the Fufeng Group Ltd. has to the Chinese communist party and the national security threat that poses to the United States.

The project also poses a threat to food security because foreign investors held 36.7 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2021, and that number is expected to grow, the letter said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agriculture Department does not have permanent membership on the CFIUS, which is troubling because the agency “should have some jurisdiction over the review of agricultural land acquisitions that raise national security concerns,” the letter said.

The letter included five questions, including two specifically tied to agricultural issues, that it asked Vilsack, Austin and Yellen to answer within 60 days of receiving the letter.

“Understanding how a land purchase like this could threaten our national and food security is crucial to prohibit these types of purchases moving forward, “ Johnson said. “We have to remain vigilant and do our homework to ensure we are protecting America and our citizens. “

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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