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Port: China's political aggression and human rights track record has to matter more than corn prices

The communists in China have made it clear they will use their country's economic clout to promote their interests. They have that clout in no small part because we give it to them.

Fufeng Group USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash meets with the Local Government Advisory Committee, which includes select members from all four of Grand Forks’ property-taxing groups Wednesday, in this photo from Jan. 12, 2022.Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Fufeng Group USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash meets with the Local Government Advisory Committee, which includes select members from all four of Grand Forks’ property-taxing groups Wednesday, in this photo from Jan. 12, 2022..
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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MINOT, N.D. — An economic development project in Grand Forks has attracted attention because the company at the heart of it is Chinese.

The Fufeng Group wants to build a corn-milling facility in Grand Forks, and they're seeking some heavy investments from the taxpayers to make it happen.

They want tax exemptions. They want infrastructure. The usual stuff.

At another time, this project wouldn't be particularly controversial, but China's role in the COVID-19 pandemic, its efforts to use its economic clout to project communist authoritarianism into liberal societies like America's, and the ongoing travesty of its human rights record has a lot of people questioning any business deal involving the country.

Defenders of the Grand Forks deal argue that Fufeng is privately held. Their stocks are traded on the Hong Kong Exchange. But China is a communist country, and its economy is state-controlled. Can it really be said that any company, headquartered in that economic environment, is operating free of the influence of the Chinese Communist Party?

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MORE FROM ROB PORT
A lot of people are watching these Republican primaries. North Dakota's government is dominated by Republicans, and there is a pitched battle going on right now for the soul of the NDGOP. These legislative races are the trenches in that battle. So far, based on one of the few objective data points we have, it appears the traditional conservatives are positioned to keep their hold on the party.

China-based tech giants such as Alibaba are also privately held and listed on various stock exchanges. They also often have Chinese Communist Party Committees embedded in their leadership structures at the behest of their government.

Fufeng is perhaps independent, for now, but that independence relies on the forbearance of China's communist regime.

Those who want the deal in Grand Forks say it will be good for the local economy. “We know that the Chinese population is significant. They are a major world customer,” Jean Henning from the North Dakota Corn Utilization Council told reporter Sam Easter . “So for us to have that market, that is a huge impact on the price of corn our farmers here in North Dakota really see.”

But are corn prices more important than the forced-labor camps where China is imprisoning millions of ethnic minorities ? Fufeng has provided audits from third-parties which they say indicates the company doesn't used forced labor.

That such audits are even necessary speaks volumes.

It's not easy for me to raise these concerns about a project that has the backing of some fine and competent North Dakota leaders. Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski is standing behind the deal. Sen. John Hoeven and Gov. Doug Burgum are, too.

These are people we should trust.

"With Fufeng in Grand Forks, it will be North Dakota — not China — that reaps the benefits of the jobs, facilities, economic activity and tax revenue associated with processing the corn,” Burgum said in a statement provided to Easter.

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But I'm afraid they're missing the point.

Politically outspoken NBA star LeBron James never has much to say about China. American megacorps such as Disney censor their own content to get access to the Chinese market.

The communists in China have made it clear they will use their country's economic clout to promote their interests.

They have that clout in no small part because we give it to them.

Maybe it's time we think about stopping.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort. He can be reached via email at rport@forumcomm.com.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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